Silent films were never totally silent; they were seen with a variety of accompaniments. Some theaters rented the original Hollywood score composed for the picture and hired an orchestra or arranged it for a small group of musicians. If that were too expensive, a few musicians would find their own music to suit. Other theaters had an organist or pianist improvise a soundtrack or play popular music of the day.  HESPERUS does something a bit different–the ensemble accompanies the silent film with music that has a connection to the action on the screen. For The Mark of Zorro, we’re playing music from Old and New Spain–Spanish and Native American music from the 16th-18th centuries. This music gives audiences a real sense of place and time.


Fairbanks’ film closely follows the author’s original plot. The Mark of Zorro is set in the 1840s in Spanish-ruled Southern California (though in truth Mexico ruled there after 1827), and the story opens as Don Diego Vega (Fairbanks) returns from Spain to find his family and friends being menaced by a corrupt governor and his henchmen. While Don Diego appears to be an effete dilettante, in reality he is Zorro, a master swordsman who has dedicated his life to fighting evil tyrants. Dressed in a purple cloak and black mask, Zorro torments his enemies further by carving a “Z” on the bodies of his adversaries while laughing in their faces.

The public was obviously ready for a new brand of escapism because The Mark of Zorro became a box office smash and encouraged Fairbanks to create a new gallery of swashbuckling heroes, including D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), Don Q Son of Zorro (1925), and The Black Pirate (1926).


Tina Chancey, Grant Herreid, Priscilla Herreid, Nell Snaidas, Andes Manta, Steve Bloom, Joe McCarthy, Scott Reiss

Innovative, historically-informed and multi-cultural, HESPERUS collaborative artists perform a variety of programs designed to bring musical history alive including silent movie soundtracks of early music, musical portraits of a single culture through time, fusions of European early music with American traditional styles, and single-genre early music programs from medieval to Spanish and British Colonial music. Whatever the genre, HESPERUS performs with creative energy, technical assurance and a sense of fun.

Founded by the late Scott Reiss and his wife, Tina Chancey, HESPERUS has appeared throughout the US, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Europe, most recently at Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Lincoln Center, the Carmel Bach Festival and the Cloisters, as well as at festivals in Italy, Germany, Indonesia and Bolivia. The ensemble can be heard in three Hallmark Channel specials (including the Emmy-nominated Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland), the film Sleepy Hollow, and on seventeen recordings on the Koch International, Dorian, and Maggie’s Music labels.