De Wolfe Music Publishers, the longest-running independent film and television music library resource in the world, is celebrating its remarkable centenary this year.
Over the last hundred years, the music library’s vast collection of instantly recognisable and iconic tracks has helped shape popular culture; if you've ever seen Man About The House, Roobarb (& Custard), Minder, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Simpson's Movie, Brokeback Mountain, Dawn of the Dead or The Royle Family then you've heard some of de Wolfe's music. With a catalogue of over 70,000 tracks, including a million-selling number one, an Ivor Novello Award-winner and countless television theme tunes and movie soundtracks, the company produces some of the finest production music available today, a century on from its beginnings in Edwardian England and the early days of cinema.
The company's founder, Meyer de Wolfe, came to London just after the turn of the 20th century to work as a musical director at Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, one of the very earliest cinema chains. At the time, soundtracks to the silent movies were played live by a pianist or small group of musicians, so initially de Wolfe Music was established in 1909 to select the musical accompaniment for the movies and to supply them as sheet music. Some of the earliest epic films such as D.W.Griffith’s The Dishonoured Medal from 1914 and the first production of The Prisoner Of Zenda by Paramount Pictures founder Adolphe Zukor had music composed or chosen by Meyer de Wolfe.
Following the advent of sound in movies from 1927, de Wolfe Music began recording its early pieces by composers such as Ivor Novello, Harry Roy, Arthur Crocker, Montague Ewing and Meyer de Wolfe himself onto 35mm 'nitrate' film. This allowed the music to be stored and re-used later in other productions, ensuring that many of the pieces from the early de Wolfe library are still available today.
When the UK began to air television commercials in September 1955, the very first advert to air was a minute-long commercial for Gibbs Toothpaste, which included a soundtrack provided by de Wolfe Music. This was the first in a long line of major brands whose adverts and campaigns have been broadcast featuring either de Wolfe library tracks or specially composed pieces, ranging from the famous British Airways 'World's Favourite Airline' and Audio Quattro ads of the ‘80s to recent commercials for Head & Shoulders, Lucozade, Adidas, Chrysler and the Britannia Building Society.
During the sixties, as television became more widespread, de Wolfe provided music for many of the early popular TV shows such as classic episodes of Dr. Who, Dad’s Army and the Benny Hill Show, while the theme tune to The Power Game won the company an Ivor Novello Award in 1968. Subsequent seventies shows The Sweeney, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Harry Worth, Rising Damp and Ripping Yarns, among others, included music from the de Wolfe library, while the theme tunes for Bob Godfrey’s Roobarb and Henry's Cat cartoons were specially composed by one of de Wolfe’s composers at Red Light Studios in Soho.
Two of de Wolfe’s published compositions from that era have stood the test of time and are instantly recognisable today: ‘Left Bank 2’, the gallery theme from Tony Hart’s Vision On is still widely used and featured recently in a Waitrose commercial, while ‘Eye Level’, the theme music for the television detective series Van Der Valk, became a million-selling number one single in 1973 and out-sold The Beatles in the UK for a whole week.
Towards the end of the seventies, de Wolfe began developing its own Angel Studios complex in Islington. Recording began in 1982, and since then many of the UK’s major artists have recorded there including The Cure, Ian Brown, Snow Patrol, Kaiser Chiefs, The Coral, Elbow and The Feeling. Fittingly, it was also where the strings for Robbie Williams worldwide smash hit ‘Angels’ were recorded, while the studio’s expansive orchestra rooms ensure its popularity among film score composers like Eric Serra (Leon and Goldeneye), Craig Armstrong (Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet) and George Fenton (Looking For Eric), who recorded his EMMY and BAFTA-winning scores for Blue Planet and Planet Earth there and Life, currently showing on the BBC. Most recently the soundtrack to the Rom Marshall’s star-studded ‘Nine’, released this Christmas, was recorded at Angel Studios.
With the evolution of the Compact Disc during the ‘80s, de Wolfe manufactured the world’s first digital production music library, released in 1985 as a series of 6 CDs. During the decade the company provided music for hundreds of classic ‘80s shows including Minder, Max Headroom and Spitting Image.
Now in its centenary year, de Wolfe is the world's largest independent production music library, with offices and agents based in forty countries from the USA to Russia. Its music is as popular as ever, with recent credits including blockbuster movies Grindhouse and The Prestige and TV shows Argumental, No Heroics and Hairy Bikers.