Monday, May 16, 2011

Franz Waxman and Miklós Rózsa: The Immigrants

I’ve combined Waxman and Rózsa into one post, because they share a very similar path.  Both were classically trained European immigrants (similar to other Golden Age composers), both composed for Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder, won Academy Awards, composed concert music, and born a year part.  Here is a brief glimpse at both men, starting with Waxman. 

Franz Waxman was born in 1907 Königshutte, Germany (now Poland).  Going against his father’s wishes, he began taking piano and composition classes.  He eventually studied music in Dresden and then Berlin.  There he joined the jazz ensemble Weintraub Syncopaters and began arranging for them.  With the Syncopaters performing, Waxman orchestrated the film The Blue Angel.  His career took off in 1933 as Waxman composed music for Lilliom and came to Hollywood to arrange music for Music in the Air. 

Waxman’s first major film score was for 1935’s sequel The Bride of Frankenstein for Universal, which led him to becoming music department head while continuing to compose and arrange.  During this time at Universal he composed such scores as Captains Courageous, The Bride Wore Red, A Christmas Carol (Reginald Owen version) and for David O. Selznick - The Young in Heart (which got Waxman his first Academy Award nominations).  He returned to Selznick in 1940 for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (and received another Oscar nod) and eventually went to MGM. 

Waxman left MGM in 1943 and moved to the Warner Bros studio.  The 1940s also brought us films such as The Philadelphia Story, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Oscar nom), returning to Hitchcock for Suspicion (Oscar nom), Destination Tokyo, Objective Burma! and Humoresque (both Oscar nominated).  By then, Waxman certainly was a strong composer in drama, suspense and comedy.  He also founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival, which premiered concert music by Rózsa and Waxman as well as modern classical composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Ralph Vaughn Williams.

The 1950s were Waxman’s highest point, and gave him his first back-to-back Oscars for Sunset Blvd. (1950) and for A Place in the Sun (1951).  Other highlights from the 1950s and 1960s include:
Rear Window (1954)
Mister Roberts (1955)
The Spirit of St. Louis; Peyton Place (1957)
Taras Bulba (1962)

Waxman was nominated for more Academy Awards for The Silver Chalice, The Nun’s Story and Taras Bulba.  In the 60s, Waxman composed music for television and his theme for Peyton Place was used in the television show of the same name.  He continued to compose concert music, including The Song of Terezin - Song Cycle before his death in 1967 at the age of 60. 


 
Miklós Rózsa was born in 1907 in Budapest, Hungary.  Like so many others, Rózsa began his music study early, taking lessons on piano, violin and viola.  Influenced by composers like Franz Liszt and Bela Bartok, Rózsa studied Hungarian folk songs and composed music like Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song while at the University of Leipzig.  Rózsa continued studying and composing in Paris and London, before getting to score The Thief of Baghdad (1940), his first Hollywood hit. 

After moving to the United States, he continued to score films like The Jungle Book (1942) and Sahara (1943).  Rózsa had a string of hits in the late 1940s starting with Double Indemnity (1944).  For Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), Rózsa turned to the spooky sounding Theremin – which he also would use in The Lost Weekend.  Hitchcock apparently didn’t like the score to Spellbound (which would win Rózsa his first Academy Award) and didn’t use Rózsa again for his movies.  He won the Oscar again in 1947 for the noir A Double Life.  He continued to score many films - and received a total of 11 Oscar nominations in the 1940s alone.  


The 1950s brought large scale epic pictures, many historical dramas.  Rózsa changed his style to include large brass fanfares, marches and strong rhythms.  Films like Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Julius Caesar, Ben-Hur, King of Kings and El Cid all benefited from Rózsa’s scoring skills.  This is most evident in the classic Parade of the Charioteers in Ben-Hur, perhaps his most familiar music – and for which he won his third Oscar.  

He continued to compose concert music like his Violin Concerto for Jascha Heifetz and Hungarian Serenade.  He also put together many concert suites of his film scores, most notably the Spellbound Concerto for piano.  Rózsa continued to compose film scores until 1982 and concert works up to his death in 1995 at the age of 88. 

MUSIC TO HEAR:
Waxman - Sunset Blvd (click here to listen)
Waxman - Rebecca (click here to listen)
Rózsa - Spellbound Concerto (click here to listen)
Rózsa - Ben-Hur – Parade of the Charioteers (click here to listen)

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