B. April 18, 1907 - Budapest, Hungary
D. July 27, 1995 - Los Angeles, CA, United States
Miklos Rozsa was born in Budapest in 1907 and from an early age demonstrated his mother's same affinity for music. (His mother had trained as a pianist at the Liszt Academy.) He learned the violin, the viola and the piano and was publicly performing Mozart at the age of 7. A musical career awaited, and he was inspired by Bartok, Kodaly and Liszt among others, and shared their liking for Hungarian folk music. He studied formally at the University of Leipzig and there he composed a number of classical works including his first Violin Concerto. He continued composing after moving to Paris and won the attention of Richard Strauss and Dohnanyi. He studied further in London's Trinity College and his first film music was for European films by directors Jacques Feyder and Alexander Korda. When war broke out in Europe, Rozsa moved to the U.S. where his music for "The Thief of Bagdad" brought him instant attention and an oscar nomination. He continued his work in hollywood with a distinguished and prolific career scoring numerous well-known movies. Among these are several examples of classic "Film Noir" before he carved out a new reputation with several notable scores for historical and/or biblical epics such as Ben-Hur, "Quo Vadis" and "El Cid". He was also a music tutor to Jerry Goldsmith.
Rozsa's musical style is generally big and direct, though he is also capable of underscoring more delicate scenes. Some of his music has a religious feel to it as befits some of the biblical epics for which he provided the soundtrack, including for example his simple yet powerful setting of The Lord's Prayer for "King of Kings" which didn't appear in the movie but was written solely for the original soundtrack
. His versatility allowed him to move effortlessly between Historical Epics and Thillers, Film Noir or Psychological Dramas such as "Double Indemnity", "The Lost Weekend" and "The Killers". In many ways his technique was a fore-runner for the music of Bernard Herrmann, not only when you consider his score for Hitchcock's "Spellbound", the schizophrenic waltz from "Madame Bovary", and the mythical adventure yarn "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" but also simply his powerful, darkly atmospheric but charismatic soundscapes. Incidentally, Rozsa adapted his oscar-winning music for "Spellbound" into a piano concerto.
Rozsa's Film Noir style is so closely associated with this type of film that it has been much borrowed and parodied, even to the extent that it now sounds almost cliched. The 4-note motto used in "The Killers" was employed (though not intentionally) on the TV series "Dragnet" and later also on the movie version with its dead-pan form of parody, and Steve Martin's "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" with its many ingenious clips from classic Noir films seemed to demand a Rozsa score. This was ironic since Rozsa had scored at least three of the original movies from which clips were taken, including "Double Indemnity", "The Lost Weekend" and "The Killers", so Rozsa ended up with something of a self-parody calling the score "Dead Men's Bolero". For "The Lost Weekend" (and also for "Spellbound"), Rozsa used that early electronic instrument the theremin to depict the mysterious attraction and effects of the Demon Drink, in much the same way as other composers have used this sound for B-movies of alien invasion.
Despite this versatility in his writing, it is impossible not to think of Rozsa without bringing to mind the Historical Epics for which he is justly famous. These soundtracks accompanied gargantuan spectacles with thousands of extras and demanded large and powerful orchestral forces to project fanfares and dark march themes. These depicted not just the scale of the movies but the sheer impact that these stories have had on succeeding generations, whether from the cultural influence of these past civilisations or the importance to the founding of some of today's leading religions.
Throughout his years in film music, Rozsa continued to consider opportunities to create music for the concert hall. He composed another Violin Concerto for Jascha Heifetz in 1953 for example, and his "Sinfonia Concertante" for Violin, Cello and orchestra is essentially a double concerto for Heitetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. He later wrote a full Cello Concerto for Janos Starker, and his concert version of his music for "Spellbound" is very much in the form of a Piano Concerto. His health declined in later years and one project to create Choral Suites from the Biblical Epics was interrupted by his death in 1995, though completed by friends and pupils of the composer.
Among the items released to mark the composer's centenary year in 2007, are the book A Composer's Notes: Remembering Miklós Rózsa and the limited collector's edition CD of his music for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes based on his violin concerto and including a number of tracks unused in the film's final cut. In late 2008 Tadlow Music brought out the definitive recording of Rozsa's masterpiece "El Cid". There is a 2 CD version but it is worth seeking out the Special Limited Collectors Edition whose 3rd CD contains bonus tracks from El Cid and other films, plus footage and interviews from the recording sessions. Rozsa's music is amazing and perfectly captured by the new recording. This youtube video shows excerpts from the recording sessions http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtwAwgO8VYQ
and the triple album can be found at :
• The Thief of Bagdad - getting the first of many Oscar nominations with its love theme, a few songs and use of chorus to augment the orchestration
• Jungle Book - (1942), not the Disney cartoon
• Five Graves to Cairo - Rozsa's first collaboration with director Billy Wilder
• Double Indemnity - again with Billy Wilder
• The Song of Scheherazade
• Madame Bovary - an historical drama directed by Vincente Minnelli based on the novel by Gustave Flaubert, Rozsa delivers his first major assignment for MGM, a romantic yet tempestuous score, the waltz music for a key scene is a highlight and very possibly modelled on Ravel's La Valse (though not quite so demonic at the end) - here is the complete dance scene on youtube as Emma Bovary allows herself to be swept off her feet by a stranger while her husband gets drunk
• The Asphalt Jungle
• The Strange Love of Martha Ivers - film noir with murder, guilt and love, starring a young Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin
• The Lost Weekend - Billy Wilder's psychological drama starring Ray Milland as an alcoholic
• Quo Vadis - a love story between a high-ranking Roman and a Christian during the time of Nero
• The Light Touch - for this caper movie Rozsa uses an Italian style theme with mandolins, which becomes a song with lyrics for the end titles
• King of Kings - the story of Jesus Christ with much choral music
• Plymouth Adventure - Rozsa incorporates a number of Psalm tunes into this story of the Mayflower's crossing to the New World
• Crisis - the score focuses on Spanish sounding music with acoustic guitars
• Beau Brummel
• The Story of Three Loves - an unusual film in 3 segments, Rozsa wrote original music but also made extensive use of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
• All the Brothers were Valiant - apart from some flute music for the natives of the South Sea islands, the music is even more stormy (in an emotional sense) than the Pacific.
• Young Bess - a royal epic, whose music is remarkably varied and includes a powerful rendition of the Dies Irae
• Valley of the Kings
• Spellbound - best music Oscar for this Hitchcock film with the Dali dream sequence, the soundtrack is dominated by a love theme but with some suitably eerie Theremin sounds for the psychological mystery
• The Killers - there is a scene near the end of the movie where some boogie-woogie style piano gets mixed with the 4-note killers theme
• Julius Caesar
• Something of Value - set in Kenya with Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier, the soundtrack is mostly singing either unaccompanied or minimally accompanied - the African sound is perhaps not totally authentic but it does give the movie a unique sound
• Tip on a Dead Donkey - functional soundtrack, but the light Spanish music on bassoon is wonderful
• Knights of the Round Table
• Ben-Hur - one of the best film soundtracks ever for this huge epic.
• El Cid - very romantic Spanish/Moorish-sounding music, the love theme is something like Rimski-Korsakov's Scheherazade
• Sodom and Gomorrah
• The Power - contains various music styles including some gypsy music
• The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes - a nice mix of material for this Billy wilder film, and even including some Scottish songs
• The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
• Time after Time
• Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid - borrowing and adapting his earlier film noir style
• Dragnet - lending the motto to the movie version of the TV series scored by Ira Newborn
TV Themes by Rozsa (or not):
The interesting story behind the Dragnet theme is that it was composed by Walter Schumann, but unknowingly he used a 4-note motto which Rozsa had previously written for the movie "The Killers". When people noticed the similarity there was a law suit, and Schumann agreed to pay half the royalties for his Dragnet theme to Rozsa.
• Dragnet - actually composed by Schumann but associated with Rozsa due to that 4-note motto and the resulting law-suit
The following scores (in the next posts) are provided as representative examples of his film music for three of the most well known of his scores, Ben-Hur, El Cid, and King of Kings. These uploads were cleared with PianoPhilia.com before being submitted (though it should be stressed that because his death was so recent, no more of his scores should be submitted unless first specifically cleared with the site's administration).
I came across these quite by chance, and due to their more difficult to find nature, I sought permission to share here. They are particularly nice as they do not suffer greatly from the modern trend of 'movie music' piano albums to be watered down to bland, so-so, intermediate level works that do not take better advantage of the range of register, colors, and dynamics of the piano (which publishers have been doing for ages even before films in order to appeal to a wider piano playing audience, i.e. lower technical buy - in). (NMS)
For more information, you are encouraged to visit the Miklos Rozsa Society website where you can read a different biography, and link to retailers that sell his music and other relevant information.
Supplement Liner Notes for some of the OST releases with nice information on the score and individual tracks (permission for distribution for personal use only is granted by the appropriate statement with the copyright information)
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