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The Music of Charlie Chaplin

Updated on January 24, 2017
Charlie Chaplin as a young man
Charlie Chaplin as a young man

Charlie Chaplin, Actor, Comic, Director, Composer....

This page is about Charlie Chaplin's music Do you love Charlie Chaplin films? Did you know Charlie Chaplin was a very fine composer? Yes, Charlie Chaplin wrote much of his own theme music! He was also a comedian, writer, pioneer of film acting, controversial film director. Certainly he was all these and more. Charlie Chaplin was an icon of the 20th century!

Chaplin was truly a self made man, rising from a life of abject poverty to international stardom. His working life spanned 65 years from the Victorian stage and Music Hall in England, through the birth of cinema to its peak. What more can one say?

Karno portrait used here is in the public domain as it was published before 1923. Source is wikipedia.

Orchestral Version of Chaplin's Music

Charlie Chaplin - Essential Film Music - Performed By The City Of Prague Philharmonic
Charlie Chaplin - Essential Film Music - Performed By The City Of Prague Philharmonic
The essential film music from Chaplin's films. In his twilight years, music became his main interest.

The Music of Charlie Chaplin

Some of Chaplin's most famous melodies....

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr KBE was the composer of wonderful, tuneful music that will be remembered forever. Charlie Chaplin composed the classic melodies of Smile and Love This Is My Song, Charlie Chaplin: Music From The Movies crosses the generation barrier now, as it always did. This page celebrates some of the wonderful melodies Chaplin composed. If this is new to you, welcome to the the Essential Film Music of Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin co-founded United Artists in 1919 with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W.Griffith and was a genius and polymath in entertainment.

He was born on 16th April 1889 in Walworth, London and died aged 88 on 25th December 1977 in Vesey, Switzerland. He was married four times, but enjoyed the company of many women in his life and the fact that they were usually much younger caused controversy. Over his lifetime he was both idolized and reviled publicly, adored and misunderstood politically and 32 years after his death his legend still lives.

In a review of the book Chaplin: A Life (2008), Martin Sieff writes:

"Chaplin was not just 'big', he was gigantic. In 1915, he burst onto a war-torn world bringing it the gift of comedy, laughter and relief while it was tearing itself apart through World War I. Over the next 25 years, through the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler, he stayed on the job. He was bigger than anybody. It is doubtful any individual has ever given more entertainment, pleasure and relief to so many human beings when they needed it the most."

Charlie Chaplin Songs On Sale - MP3 recordings of Chaplin's music

Oh, and incidentally, in response to queries, I have found these candilejas lyrics to Chaplin's most famous tune....

Tu llegaste a mi, cuando me voy;

Eres luz de Abril, yo tarde gris.

Eres juventud, amor, calor, fulgor de sol;

Trajiste a mi, tu juventud, cuando me voy.

Entre candilejas the adore,

Entre candilejas, yo the ame;

La felicidad, que diste a mi vivir se fue,

No volvera, nunca jamas, lo se muy bien.

What Chaplin aimed for in his music.

Charlie Chaplin's musical ambitions

Charlie Chaplin's music is elegant, romantic and subtle. Musical arrangers often wanted the music to be funny and "knock-about" but Chaplin could see this would undermine the deeper dimension of his films. The tramp was more than just a clown - he had emotional depth and subtlety. To me, in that, he embodies the hopes of the ordinary man to be recognised and loved for who he is.... He didn't want the music to be competition for the comedy, he wanted it to be "a counterpoint of grace and charm, to express sentiment, without which, as Hazlitt says, a work of art is incomplete."

Musicians and orchestrators would become pompous every now and then and talk of technicalities and analysis, restricted intervals of the chromatic and diatonic scales. (He knew and loved Schoenberg's work, but that didn't get in the way of his own voice and personal vision in his music.) He would reply to pomposity with the comment "Whatever the melody is, the rest is just a vamp!"

Charlie Chaplin's music was personal and he took a great interest in its production. He looked over his own conductor scores carefully for over-orchestration, saying "That's too black in the brass!" or "too busy in the woodwinds!" Basically, he worked with musicians but hung on tightly to his own view of elegance and romance.

Charlie Chaplin by himself

I just acquired my own hardback copy of Charlie Chaplin's autobiography. Needless to say I think I am set up for some quality holiday reading over the summer! More later!

Charlie Chaplin's Special Musical Gift - Chaplin the violinist....

When you read criticisms or appreciations of Charlie Chaplin's music in various music forums you would be forgiven for thinking he had little knowledge. In an era when it was common for the famous musicians of Tin Pan Alley to sing a tune to a "pro" and have it specially arranged, this was not unusual (and is no less usual in the music industry now!) However it is not true, Charlie Chaplin's music reflects his keen interest in music and both knowledge and ability at a professional level.

Practice makes Perfect

The music of Charlie Chaplin is grounded in practical experience and instrumental knowledge. Charlie Chaplin took lessons from string players in the pit bands whilst on tour and would frequently practice between 4-6 hours a day on violin and cello. As a left hander, he had the bass bar and soundpost reversed on his violin. He knew that he could use the instruments in his vaudeville act at very least, but his secret ambition was to be a concert violinist. He set himself very high standards (hence the practice) but sadly he gave up when he realised he would "never achieve excellence".

Very often musicians, who are a professionally jealous and highly critical species, will assert that Charlie Chaplin simply used professionals to do all the real work. This may or may not be reinforced by the fact that he had many friends among the musical superstars of the time. He dined with Rachmaninov and Chaliapin, the great bass singer, met Caruso backstage and was congratulated by Debussy on his music, for instance, and the picture above shows him with great violinist Jascha Heifitz. In his heyday he will have used all resources available as an actor and director, however in the latter part of his life his love of music came to the fore and he worked on his music anew.

Charlie Chaplin Conducting

The Little Tramp - Charlie Chaplin's Eternal Character!

Chaplin's earliest films were made for Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios. The tramp first made an appearance when Chaplin, age 24, appeared in Kid Auto Races at Venice. However, he had devised the tramp costume for Mabel's Strange Predicament.

Mack Sennett had requested that Chaplin "get into a comedy make-up"

As Chaplin recalled:

"I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter (in Making a Living). However on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born."

Until he began making spoken dialogue films with The Great Dictator, Chaplin never shot from a completed script. The method he developed, was to set a scene and then improvise action and gags. A narrative would gradually emerge which frequently required reshooting any scene that might have contradicted the story. Chaplin's unique techniques became apparent after his death, when rare out takes and cut sequences were carefully examined. He was also a perfectionist and would film dozens of takes to get things just right. An example from the Gold Rush has a scene wherein the Lone Prospector was eating his shoelaces (made of liquorice) Chaplin was not satisfied and so he did take after take eating the shoelaces.

Here are some of the musical credits from Chaplin's career.

  • After the arrival of talkies, Chaplin made City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) before he committed to sound. These were silent films scored with his own music and sound effects.
  • City Lights probably contains his most perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality. James Agee wrote in Life magazine in 1949 that the final scene of City Lights was the "greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid".
  • While Modern Times (1936) is a non-talkie, talk emanates from objects such as a radio or a TV monitor. This was done to help 1930s audiences adjust to not hearing dialogue.
  • Although Modern Times was the first film where Chaplin's voice is heard (in the nonsense song written and performed by himself). However, it is still considered a silent film and the end of an era. Chaplin's dialogue films were The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952).
  • Chaplin has one film credit for choreography for the 1952 film Limelight, and another as a singer for the title music of The Circus (1928).
  • The best known of several songs he composed are "Smile", composed for the film Modern Times (1936). The tune was given lyrics to help promote a 1950s revival and was famously covered by Nat King Cole.
  • "This Is My Song" from Chaplin's last film, "A Countess From Hong Kong," was a huge number one hit for Petula Clark amongst others in the 1960s. Other versions include an unreleased recording from 1967 by Judith Durham of The Seekers which was discovered in the 1990s.
  • Chaplin's theme from Limelight ("Terry's Theme") was a hit in the 1950s under the title "Eternally."
  • In 1972, Chaplin won an Oscar for the Best Music in an Original Dramatic Score for the 1952 film Limelight, which co-starred Claire Bloom. Interestingly, a delay in the film premiering in Los Angeles made it eligible decades after it was filmed. Due to political difficulties, the film did not play a one-week engagement in Los Angeles when first produced so could not be nominated until 1972.
  • Chaplin was also given two honorary Academy Awards in his lifetime. His second honorary Academy Award also came in 1972 and was for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century". He came out of his exile to accept his award, and received the longest standing ovation in Academy Award history, lasting a full five minutes.
  • Chaplin's final two films were made in London: A King in New York (1957) in which he starred, wrote, directed and produced; and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), which he directed, produced, and wrote. The latter film stars Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando, and Chaplin made his final on-screen appearance in a brief cameo role as a seasick steward.
  • He also compiled The Chaplin Revue from three First National films for which he composed the music A Dog's Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918) and The Pilgrim (1923).
  • From 1969 until 1976, Chaplin worked with Eric James composing scores for his silent pictures and re-released them. He composed scores for all his First National shorts: The Idle Class in 1971 (paired with The Kid for re-release in 1972), A Day's Pleasure in 1973, Pay Day in 1972, Sunnyside in 1974, and of his feature length films firstly The Circus in 1969 and The Kid in 1971.
  • Chaplin's last completed musical work was the score for his 1923 film A Woman of Paris, which was completed in 1976, by which time Chaplin was extremely frail, even finding communication difficult.

Charlie Chaplin Sheet Music For Sale - Buy Charlei Chaplin Sheet Music On Amazon

Smile - Charlie Chaplin, John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons

Smile though your heart is breaking

The tune is pure Chaplin, the words were added later by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. When I hear this song, a gem of Charlie Chaplin's music, with its perfect match of melody and lyrics I am reminded that Charlie Chaplin genuinely paid his dues! His lyricists must have picked up the mournful thread in his music. Alrhough he lived a life of luxury in his later adulthood, his childhood origins in London were poor, bleak and desolate. His life is a living testimony to those words although in fact he did not write them himself!

Here are the lyrics for those who love the song and would like to sing along:

Smile, though your heart is aching,

Smile, even though it's breaking.

When there are clouds in the sky

You'll get by if you

Smile through your tears and sorrow,

Smile, and maybe tomorrow

You'll see the sun come shining through, for you.

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That's the time you must keep on trying,

Smile, what's the use of crying,

You'll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile.

The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Chaplin - Charlie Chaplin was turned down for war service

This song makes fun of Charlie Chaplin because of his lack of war service. In fact he volunteered for WW1 service, but was turned down as he was too small and underweight! Retrospectively, all his fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief that he wasn't a little bigger!

A prophet is not without honour.....

Charlie Chaplin in the political wilderness - Charlie Chaplin was turned down for the army but supported his country in other ways.
Charlie Chaplin in the political wilderness - Charlie Chaplin was turned down for the army but supported his country in other ways.

On 4 March 1975, when Chaplin was aged eighty-five, Queen Elizabeth II dubbed him a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE). The honour had been first proposed in 1931 but controversy prevented it. During World War I, the British press criticized him for not joining the Army. He had in fact been turned down as too small and underweight! However Chaplin raised substantial funds for the War Effort public speaking at rallies and made, at his own expense, The Bond, a comedy propaganda film used in 1918. This did not stop the Press or the satirical song writers from attacking him of course.

He came under fire for his socialist ideals in later life partly because of pro-Russian politics in the final speech from the film The Great Dictator. He was basically hounded out of America in the McCarthy era but when he returned in 1972 it was to a very warm welcome! Knighthood had been proposed again in 1956, but was vetoed by the Conservative government. The reason, they feared damage to relations with the United States during the Cold War and the planned invasion of Suez.

Charlie Chaplins' Music - what Chaplin said about his music.....

Nothing is more adventurous or exciting than to hear the tunes one has composed played for the first time by a fifty-piece orchestra!

At last City Lights was finished:

only the music was to be recorded. One happy thing about sound was that I could control the music, so I composed my own.

I tried to compose elegant and romantic music to frame my comedies in contrast to the tramp character, for elegant music gave my comedies and emotional dimension. Musical arrangers rarely understood this.

Charlie Chaplin - "My Autobiography"

Buy the Soundtrack from Chaplin (1992) - Chaplin the movie soundtrack by John Barry

Chaplin (1992 Film)
Chaplin (1992 Film)
The 1992 film Chaplin gives a good insight into Chaplin's life story. John Barry's soundtrack of the music from the film is worth hearing.

Thank you for visiting, please feel free to leave your comments!

All the best :)

What do you think of Charlie Chaplin's music? - Did you like this lens about the Music of Charlie Chaplin?

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    • profile image

      MikeRobbers LM 

      7 years ago

      Had no idea he had so many other talents! Great lens! Very informative!

    • takkhisa profile image


      7 years ago

      He was a brilliant actor :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Sounds great. Never knew of them before!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I need to familiarize myself with his music. He is a legend.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Classic Chaplin. Love the lens

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      What a talented man Chaplin was. I had no idea he wrote his own music.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      8 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      what a great artist. enjoyed your lens.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Enjoyed this new information about one of my favourites.

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 

      8 years ago from U.S.A.

      I love it! Chaplin was a genius! Totally awesome lens!!!

    • SMW1962 LM profile image

      SMW1962 LM 

      8 years ago

      Very entertaining! Thanks!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Superb lens - Came to know more information about Chaplin - Whenever you want to laugh until your stomach pain, watch a charlie chaplin movie

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens, I hadn't actually realized that Chaplin was a composer.

    • kerbev profile image

      Kerri Bee 

      9 years ago from Upstate, NY

      I didn't realize he did music.

    • EMangl profile image


      9 years ago

      A giant of entertainment

    • viscri8 profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you for a wonderful reminder of a great character and for his music. My day is made by the smile I had when I saw the title of this lens. keep well!

    • Adventuretravels profile image


      9 years ago from UK

      Very interesting lens. Good ol' Charlie Chaplin!

    • mariaamoroso profile image


      9 years ago from Sweden

      He was gigantic indeed. The whole world knows him. He is listed on my lens about Gypsies, The Roma too.

    • jlshernandez profile image


      9 years ago

      Lenrolled to Historic Niles district of Fremont CA lens. This is where Charlie Chaplin filmed "The Tramp" among other silent films.

    • Alfiesgirl LM profile image

      Alfiesgirl LM 

      9 years ago

      Until visiting this lens i had no idea that Charle Chaplin composed music whatsoever...which, seeing as I live in the same borough of london as he did I am quite ashamed to admit. Another fantastic music lens 5*****

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      awesome lens!, Chaplin is amazingly talented!

    • Steve Dizmon profile image

      Steve Dizmon 

      9 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I had no idea Chaplin was a composer. For me this is an interesting new side to a man I thought of only as a "visual" comedian. Thanks.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Super lens on a Super Comic!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Good lens. Big thumbs up. Charlie Chaplin's music was very interesting.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      10 years ago

      I had no idea that Charlie Chaplin did music!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Chaplin is a great actor, and the music is pretty nice.

    • GardenArbor profile image


      10 years ago

      Great music. Our Charlie had so many talents. His films should be seen more often. Thanks for a great lens.

    • profile image

      BladeOps LM 

      10 years ago

      nice lens

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Charlie Chaplin movies touched my heart because beneath the laughter he could express the magnitude and depth of sorrow , he was a great actor. The movies and music are great, I do not find anyone coming close to him in the coming years. Nicely written lens that evoked my childhood memories of watching his movies.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      well the more you read the more you know, and I love this lens, great job.

    • bechand profile image

      K Bechand 

      10 years ago from NY

      They don't make em like they used to - huh !!!

      Thanks for gathering all this info - Was nice to see

      Gotta remember to expose the Kids to Charlie !

    • jgall34 lm profile image

      jgall34 lm 

      10 years ago

      i like chaplins movies as well

    • profile image

      Ashly Rain 

      10 years ago

      Great lens! I really had no idea about Charlie Chaplin's music legacy. Getting educated on Squidoo!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I love the fact that he made so many people laugh without saying a word, and his quote "A day without laughter is a day wasted". So much talent!

      Great lens; thanks for sharing, Photahsiamirabel!

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      @AbsolutelyPrehi: Many do. The amazing thing about Chaplin is that he developed all his amazing gifts despite having one of the most deprived childhoods you can imagine. I knew he had written the songs, but did not know the full extent of his musical ability until I read his autobiography and did more research. He was a real musician!

    • AbsolutelyPrehi profile image

      Absolutely Prehistoric 

      10 years ago from San Antonio, Texas

      I did not know Chaplin composed music. I thought of him only as a silent film comedy star.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      A man of many talents. I have sheet music of his music.

    • sheilamarie78 profile image


      10 years ago from British Columbia

      I never realized Charlie Chaplin composed the music for his films, but that makes so much sense. His tramp character is expressed so perfectly by the music. Thanks for increasing my knowledge of this fascinating man. I once showed my middle school students the film Modern Times as a way to help them understand the history of the early 20th century. Of course they loved it!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Fun lens. Charlie Chaplin is enjoyable to watch.

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      @anonymous: Thank you Kimberley. I think getting to know Chaplin via his autobiography, the biopic and his films puts a whole new slant on him. He was truly very special and for me, as a musician, hearing Chaplin the composer makes him even more so. :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I loved Chaplin, and that is still one of my favorite soundtracks. It's hard to believe that movie was made so long ago. I erroneously associate John Barry's music with Charlie Chaplin but I'll have to set the record straight and listen to more of his original work. Thanks for sharing!

    • jlshernandez profile image


      10 years ago

      Didn't know Charlie composed music. I Learned something new today.

      Great lens.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is a fascinating lens. I never knew that Charlie Chaplin was a composer.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      10 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Very interesting and I enjoyed learning more about Charlie Chaplin

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Chaplin's movies

    • profile image


      11 years ago

    • Laniann profile image


      11 years ago

      I didn't know anything about Charlie Chaplin's music, very nice. You have done an excellent job of gathering all this information about him, his music and the relationship. 5*s

    • AppalachianCoun profile image


      11 years ago

      Great lens. Mr. Chaplin did have wonderful talent. Thank-you and 5 stars*****

    • Laddoo LM profile image

      Lloyd Pinto 

      11 years ago from Mumbai

      I didn't know about this side of Chaplin!! Thanks for this wonderful information. Very well presented lens as well. 5* and a fave!

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 

      11 years ago from Michigan

      Chaplin was a bona fide genius and probably at his happiest when he was creating (although judging from the number of beautiful young women he was involved with, that may not be entirely true). Thanks for this excellent lens! And thank you for spotlighting my Uillean Pipes lens and for tweeting it! Best, Tom

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Love this lens - thank you! Going to make time over the next few days to visit your others, too! :)

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Charlie Chapling WAS more than just slapstick comedy. Thanks for this wonderfully made lens!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I didn't know he was a musician at all! There's lots here to listen to and think about. Thank you!


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