Actor, comedian, director. Everyone knows Charlie Chaplin, the comic genius whose screen persona of ‘The Little Tramp’ defined the silent film era. What is less well known is that the boy from the back streets of South London was a talented violinist who, despite never learning to read music, ‘wrote’ the soundtracks for all of his films while making friends and acquaintances out of many of the century’s greatest composers.

Charlie Chaplin, Composer Charlie Chaplin in  The Vagabond, 1916

Russian-born, American violinist Philippe Quint, who has unearthed an album’s worth of Chaplin’s music for Warner Classics, knows a thing or two about Chaplin the musician, having been a fan growing up in Leningrad. “I recollect seeing him on Soviet TV,” he tells me, the day after I sat spellbound through his fascinating CD launch at Joe’s Pub in downtown Manhattan. “The speculation about Chaplin being affiliated with the Communist Party – the reason he was banned from the US, though they never found any evidence – made [the authorities] comfortable about showing Chaplin films in Russia. And because his movies were silent they felt there was no poisonous Western agenda. For me, the name...