was born in Vienna, Austria. His father Gabor Steiner was a
prosperous theatrical producer who also built the famous huge ferris
wheel in the Prater. His mother was a successful restauranteur. His
grandfather was manager of Vienna's most prestigious operetta venue
-- the Theatre An-der-Wien (whom, it was said, had convinced waltz
king Johann Strauss to begin writing longer dramatic forms --
specifically operettas which could be staged at the Theatre.)
With such a priveleged family background, the young Maximilian was living out the life described by the adage, "to those whom much is given, much is expected." He was enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Music, and graduated with many honors as a pianist and conducting student. At age 18 he travelled to Russia to begin his career as conductor of a touring opera company. His road to success was to take him through half his life as an opera, operetta and theatrical orchestra conductor.
After a successful debut in Europe, he became well known during his first eight years conducting in various cities. Friends in the London theatre musical circles persuaded him to come to the United States in 1914 shortly after the outbreak of World War I. His friends loaned him money to make the trip. And Steiner's uncle, a theatrical booking agent in New York, put him up until he was able to find employment conducting the pit orchestras for the emerging Broadway musical comedy tradition. This was just beginning to emerge from the older tradition of European operettas. Steiner was at the right place at the right time.
During the next six years he became one of the most ubiquitous Broadway conductors during the last half of the1920s. During this period, Steiner had done some limited arranging, but had been mostly just a pit orchestra conductor during the past two decades while in Europe and New York. Then in 1929 (the year the stock market crashed) Steiner was about to relocate again -- this time to the West Coast -- where, at age 42 -- he was to begin a brand new career -- that of one of the most prolific film composers and music directors in Hollywood.
The "talkies" (sound motion pictures) were a two-year-old phenomenon. Sound recording was still a primitive technology. But in 1929, Hollywood studios decided it was here to stay, and they had a factory system that needed output weekly. So they looked to New York Broadway theatre for both actors who could project their voices, and proven musical talent. Steiner's skills and long experience put him at the right place at the right time again.
RKO was the first studio that recognized Steiner's talent, and because of his Broadway reputation, offerred him a one-year contract to justify relocating from New York. His first job was that of an orchestrator for RKO's composer Harry Tierney on the film "Dixiana." During this period of 1929 - 1932, most "talking" sound films only required Main Title and End Credits THEMEs, and occasional accompaniment for songs during the movie. He showed he could also handle conducting and composing chores as well. So he moved quickly into those duties on the "assembly line" of the "Hollywood Studio System." In fact, within a month after arriving, Steiner was given the job of "Music Director" of the studio, so he brought his friend Roy Webb out from New York to be his assistant.
The first talking films liberally quoted from popular songs of the day. In fact, throughout Steiner's career he sometimes indulged in this practice as well, incorporating folk songs and other quotes, as needed. And usually when an early "talkie" had music it was in conjunction with a scene where someone was performing on camera. The first film which Steiner worked on that did not do that -- where "incidental music" was used like that for a play -- was RKO's 1931 production of "Cimarron."
In 1932, Steiner was given permission to compose his first complete dramatic underscore for a motion picture -- the "Symphony Of Six Million." This led to a succession of other "through-composed" films. Since he was a pioneer and becoming the leading expert in the field of film composing, he created several innovations -- including the visual "streamer" and "click-track" (heard on headphones), both to closer synchronize the orchestra with visual aspects of the picture. Steiner's value and talent was proven beyond question on such RKO pictures as "Bird Of Paradise", "The Three Musketeers" (1935 version) and "King Kong" which put his name "on the map" in Hollywood. He won his first Oscar for scoring "The Informer" in 1935.
These successes led to lucrative offers from rival film companies. And in 1936, Steiner was lured away by Warner Brothers Studios which became his home for the 17 years. His first film score for Warner Brothers was "Kid Galahad" (1936.) In the same year he scored "The Charge Of The Light Brigade." But the 3-hour score for "Gone With The Wind" three years later, in 1939, secured Steiner's place in film music history.
Steiner (with the help of his orchestrators) was handling composing duties as well as most of the conducting duties leading the Warners studio orchestra, which was considered the finest collection of studio musicians in Hollywood at that time. The 1940s and 1950s were the two decades during which many of Steiner's most illustrious work was done. Steiner left Warner Brothers to "free-lance" in 1953.
Other notable films he scored during long career included "Kid Galahad" (1936), "A Star Is Born" (1936), "Intermezzo" (1939), "Now, Voyager" (1942), "Since You Went Away" (1944), "Life With Father" (1947), "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), "The Fountainhead" (1949), "Adventures of Don Juan" (1949), "Young Man With A Horn" (1950), "A Summer Place" (1959)
A Percy Faith arrangement of Steiner's "Theme from A Summer Place" was a surprise instrumental hit in 1959. But by the 1960s, the "Hollywood Studio System" that had provided employment to so many talented musicians was only a memory. Steiner found himself afloat free-lance waters that appeared ever more apathetic about the triumphs of decades before. He recalled a mortifying conversation when he was trying to get work with a young studio executive at Warners music department during this time who didn't even recognize his name.
Although Steiner got a few commissions for many different studios during this period (and when things got tough, even experimented with a few television assignments), he gradually found himself growing resentful at the way he had been discarded by Hollywood toward the end of his life. But by this time he was over 70 years old, and had enjoyed one of the longest and most successful careers of any conductor/composer in the 20th Century music business.
During his hard-working career as conductor, orchestrator, film composer and studio executive, he definitely "raised the bar" on what it meant to be a professional musician in Hollywood. His example was an inspiration to many who followed in his footsteps.
After battling heart disease, Steiner died at age 83 just after Christmas of1971 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Hollywood.
Max Steiner Homepage and Steiner Library
was born in The Ukraine and studied in St. Petersburg, Russia
(known for a time as: Leningrad, the U.S.S.R.). Although he shared a
birthdate (May 10) with Max Steiner of Vienna, Tiomkin was born 6
years after Steiner.
Showing a talent for piano at an early age, young Dimitri passed tests and interviews and was accepted at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire -- one of the two top Russian musical training institutions (the other being the Moscow Conservatory.) In St. Petersburg, he studied piano performance and composition with famous Russian composer Alexander Glazunov. Tiomkin's friends while there included a couple of other students who would become among the most famous Russian composers of "serious" concert music of the early 20th century -- namely Dimitri Shostakovich and Serge Prokofiev.
During World War I, Russia battled Germany; this was immediately followed by the Russian October Revolution of 1917 in which Communism began to take hold. Life in Russia was bleaker than ever. By 1920, Tiomkin also saw that to make progress seeking opportunities toward his chosen goal as a concert pianist he would need to go to Europe. So he traveled to Europe's cultural and musical capital of Berlin, Germany where he made a few notable piano performances. They led to being accepted as a student of legendary pianist and teacher Ferrucio Busoni, an Italian living in Berlin. Although the teacher was old and frail, his assistants helped to make sure the lessons were understood.
Tiomkin's years in Berlin were productive -- he not only studied with Busoni, but had piano students of his own, performed the Liszt Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic, and composed a few light pieces which were published. He also formed a two-piano touring act which resulted in his moving to Paris, France. In Paris, he met a young ballerina named Albertina Rasch who was achieving considerable success both as a soloist and leader of her own dance company that was known throughout both Europe and the United States. A whirlwind romance and courtship ensued, and Albertina became his wife. So Dimitri accompanied her on a New York dance tour where was invited to perform himself on a concert being held at Carnegie Hall.
Returning to Paris after the tour, Tiomkin met many of the city's musical luminaries including composer Maurice Ravel, and visiting American composer/pianist George Gershwin whom he befriended at that time. Gershwin introduced Tiomkin to the intracies of syncopation used in American jazz, and Tiomkin was fascinated. He and Albertina returned to the U.S. for another tour in which Tiomkin performed Gershwin pieces including "Rhapsody In Blue" at Carnegie Hall, and went West for a performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic playing Gershwin's "Concerto In F." Tiomkin also gave solo piano recitals throughout the country. Albertina also was hired to stage some Broadway shows in New York, so the couple were sometimes travelling apart.
In 1929, the American stock market crash had changed the economics of Broadway and concerts requiring the famous couple to become more resourceful. Since the sound era was coming to films, Albertina found work in Hollywood producing a series of short ballet films, and Dimitri travelled with her. An unusual composition Dimitri wrote for Albertina's company called "The Mars Ballet" was heard by a studio executive who paid $3000 for the composition to be acquired and used in early 1930s film scoring. This was the first of several pieces Tiomkin managed to sell to the music libraries of various voracious Hollywood film studios during the early "talkies" era. Although there were no offers at that time for him to be a staff composer for a studio, his talent was obvious, and so individual compositions were purchased by sympathetic colleagues, a big help during the lean depression years.
In 1933, an opportunity to score an entire picture for the fledgling Universal Studios was offered to Tiomkin. It was a film version of Leo Tolstoy's "Resurrection". Who better to score a Russian story than a guy from Russia? Although it was his first official film score, Tiomkin later criticized it as a work he was not too proud of. But it was a beginning.
Soon another opportunity arose -- to score "Alice And Wonderland" for Paramount Studios. Surprisingly Tiomkin was able to create music in the style of an Lewis Carroll English story world, having been acquainted with various European idioms through his classical performances. Soon Tiomkin found himself making a comfortable living in the early 1930s working on a series of pictures which helped him live well, but admitted later these early scores did not really challenge him.
After four years of working on pictures all over as a sort of free-lance apprentice to the "Hollywood Studio System", Tiomkin met Director Frank Capra at a Hollywood party, and was given an opportunity to score Capra's next picture, "Lost Horizon (1937)." The success of the picture and the memorable and touching score was a major reason Tiomkin's career as a film composer began to take off.
Capra had loaned Tiomkin a book of songs that were the kind school children might learn to sing, so that Tiomkin could become familiar with American folk idioms. Tiomkin began to absorb this religiously, and this was to prove very useful when he later scored Westerns and developed his own idiom which sounded authentically American. In fact it was Tiomkin's approach to orchestrating western-style themes that defined the "Hollywood western theme" during the 1950s. But we are getting ahead of the story.
The next two decades from 1940 - 1960 were amazingly fruitful and satisfying periods in Tiomkin's Hollywood career. He was asked to compose for many different larger budget projects with varied requirements. He found that his early formal disciplined training added to his passion for learning new things served him well as he scored an ever-increasing roster of films, including three for Alfred Hitchock: "Dial 'M' for Murder", "Strangers On A Train" and "I Confess". But in 1952 he was given an opportunity to score a moody stylistic western which proved he could master a decidedly American idiom -- the American Western. Although Tiomkin had scored several western pictures before, the picture which "branded him" into the consciousness of the public was the Gary Cooper classic "High Noon". The title song he co-wrote for the picture became a smash hit both in its original version sung by cowboy star Tex Ritter and in many cover versions that followed.
When asked how a Ukrainian-Russian could understand the spirit of the American West so well in order to write such memorable music for it, Tiomkin explained that the cowboys of the Western Plains were not so different from horsemen on the Steppes of Cossack Russia. He quipped, "a steppe is a steppe is a steppe." He became identified more for his Western picture scores which included "Duel In The Sun" (1947), "Red River" (1948), "The Big Sky" (1952), "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957), "Rio Bravo" (1959), "The Alamo" (1960), "The War Wagon" (1967) and the theme for the 1959 TV series "Rawhide."
Other notable films he scored which demonstrated his stylistic versatility ranged from wide-screen epics to smaller stories included "55 Days in Peking", "The Fall of the Roman Empire", "Land of the Pharoahs", "Giant", "Champion", "Friendly Persuasion", "Circus World", "The Guns of Navarone", "The High and the Mighty", "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1951), "The Sundowners", and "The Old Man and the Sea."
A couple of events occurred during his career which unfortunately associated Tiomkin's name with controversy, however undeserved. The first was after he finished scoring "It's A Wonderful Life" (1943) -- the Christmas classic for Frank Capra -- the famous director took the liberty of partially replacing and "re-editing" some of Tiomkin's music tracks to work "better" behind different scenes. Tiomkin was so indignant at the way this was done behind his back that he broke with Capra and never again worked with him. One can understand the composer's outrage at the way the director did this. But since the picture was a moderate success and became a perennial classic, Tiomkin's grousing over Capra's meddling was perceived as unbecoming. After all, in Hollywood the only thing that counts is success. And to be part of a picture that was a success, and then to go around making noises was a sure way to be perceived as "a troublemaker."
The next event Tiomkin participated in which sealed his odd reputation was the Academy Awards Ceremony of 1955 when Tiomkin won the 3rd of his 4 Oscars for "The High And The Mighty". A "tune detective" named Sigmund Spaeth had appeared in court months before in defense of a frivolous plaigiarism lawsuit against Tiomkin. Spaeth had demonstrated how various popular melodies could be shown to have antecedents in classical works. Tiomkin's piece was the subject of one of these dissections, along with many other pieces, which showed the jury that you could make parallels to those of classical composers if you took analysis of note patterns to a ridiculous extreme. With Spaeth's helpful testimony, Tiomkin won the court case.
During the Academy Award Ceremonies, Tiomkin decided to refer to Spaeth's courtroom defense, as well as pay sincere tribute to the many fine classical composers who had inspired him since boyhood. When he stepped up to the podium to receive his Oscar, Tiomkin began by saying sincerely, "I'd like to thank Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov..." The rest of his speech was drowned out by audience laughter. And host Bob Hope quipped "You'll never get on THIS show again." The incorrect perception by Hollywood reported by the media was that Tiomkin was casting aspersions at film composers, by confirming the attitude they are "hacks" who take liberties and lift material from classical sources rather than use their own originality. At least his Oscar speech was often quoted to make such a point. So his reputation took a curious temporary turn.
Despite the Oscar speech flap of 1955, Tiomkin went on to receive his fourth Oscar for scoring the film based upon Hemingway's "Old Man and The Sea" (1958.) In the late 1960s, Tiomkin's prolific career began to slow. He immersed himself in a project to bring the life of "Tchaikovsky" to the screen, which finally happened in 1967. But it was his last project. Tiomkin's beloved Albertina had recently died and he decided to retire. Moving to England to live out his retirement years in a quiet suburb of London, he passed away in 1979.
was born in Bruenn, Czechoslovakia and raised in Vienna, the son of a prominent music critic. A composing prodigy who wrote ambitious youthful compositions -- including operettas (light operas) -- in his native Austria. He curried the favor of many in the music scene who praised his early efforts composing as a young teenager publicly. (But many wags said the favorable comments were undeserved -- from musicians who were only flattering teenage Korngold because they wanted to please the composer's powerful father.) Still, Erich did have talent. As he grew into manhood, he proved more and more that his gifts and skills were genuine.
As a composer of several European operettas during his 20s,
Korngold was preparing himself for the medium of the big screen sound
film even before "talkies" existed. In fact, he admitted in
interviews that his approach to scoring a film was to think of it as
an opera. Korngold used the Wagnerian approach to scoring--with
characters each having their own theme, or "leit-motif", as did Max
Steiner, another early film music pioneer from Vienna who was 19
years older than Korngold, who had also emigrated to Hollywood.
Korngold only scored 16 films during his Hollywood career -- only a dozen years from 1934 to 1946. But these scores became classics which helped demonstrate the quality of what was capable using symphonic scoring for films. Often his assignments were for the swashbuckling Warner Brothers films of Errol Flynn and other costume dramas. His penchant for writing broad themes in glittering orchestrations enhanced these dramas immensely.
In 1943, Nine years after he scored his first film, after commuting between Europe and Hollywood, Korngold became a naturalized American citizen. But just three years later in 1946, after scoring only 16 films, Korngold decided to abandon film composing altogether for writing what he considered "serious" concert music. It's not known all the factors that went into that decision. But Korngold's father Julius who had lived with him always thought that he should return to "absolute music" for concerts. And so Erich decided not to renew his contract with Warner Brothers when it expired in 1946, much to the dismay of his employer and the Hollywood musical community at large.
The end of World War II ended the need for escapist fantasies like the costume dramas and adventure films of Errol Flynn. Hollywood movies were beginning to embrace the more stylized crime melodramas of film noir, and other grittier postwar trends, and of course the American Western sagas. So perhaps the decision was (consciously or not) a reflection that it was time to move on since a grittier style may not have been appealing to Korngold, the cultured European..
Still, it might have been great to hear what he could have done to evolve a more "American" style of scoring as did the Russian emigre Dimitri Tiompkin. But this was not to be. Throughout the rest of his life, Korngold did compose more serious concert music, but was never again to receive the worldwide recognition these glorious filmscores of the late 1930s and early 1940s brought to him.
Light music collectors are indebted to the composer's son--producer George Korngold--who brought these melodies to the attention of the larger public in the 1970s with new hi-fidelity recordings of his father's music using a full symphony orchestra. It is a quaint fact that the original recordings with the Warner Brothers studio orchestra were recorded by only about 25 players, so the newer recordings have come to represent the "Korngold Sound" in a way that fully demonstrates its power.
Although Erich Korngold's music was often grandiose, theatrical, and in retrospect may seem larger than life, so were many film dramas of the era; and there are some memorable truly beautiful gems of melody which Korngold created which will remain classics of the film scoring art forever.
Korngold died at the age of 60 in 1957 after a series of strokes had immobilized him.
was born in Chicago, Illinois to Polish immigrant parents. His
father was an opera singer with the Chicago Opera Company. When he
was 10, his mother passed away. So he and his sister were sent to
live with his grandparents in Poland. The talented boy loved music,
and as a teenager was accepted into the Imperial Conservatory of
Warsaw where he learned to play the violin and was taught music
theory by a professor who had been a pupil of Tchaikovsky. When he
made his performing debut as a concert violinst he was given a rare
1730 Guarnerius violin by a fan during his European tour. After the
end of World War 1, in 1920 at age 20 Victor and his sister returned
to the United States. After a year of struggle, he found work as a
violinist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1921. He was such a
virtuoso violinist that it is possible he could have made performing
his career, had not fate intervened in the form of the silver
Silent movies during the 1920s were not really silent. Large theatres had their own orchestras, and work for talented musicians was plentiful. So in 1922, Victor spent a year playing violin in the orchestra at Sid Grauman's "Million Dollar Theatre" in Hollywood. He was lured back home to Chicago the following year for an opportunity to become the concertmaster (lead violinist) for an orchestra at the "anchor theatre" of the Balaban and Katz chain of theatres. He also played with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. In 1928 he wrote the first of many songs to gain national acclaim -- "Sweet Sue".
Victor began to arrange and compose and conduct orchestras. By 1929, he had found work in both radio and for the Brunswick record label. He moved to New York in 1931, where he conducted radio program orchestras for Don Ameche's variety show and Al Jolson. During the early 1930s he had become known to many radio audiences as an orchestra conductor, and had moved to Decca records which brought him in contact with many of the prominent recording artists of the 1930s. He wrote more pop songs during this period including "Beautiful Love" (1931), "Love Me Tonight" (1932), "Ghost of a Chance" (1933.)
Late in 1935 he moved to Hollywood to accept a position as a staff composer/arranger for Paramount pictures. His first assignments were the Paramount films "Anything Goes" (1936) and "Champagne Waltz" released in 1937. He was so busy scored films he didn't write any new songs until 1940.
The twenty year period from 1936 to 1956 were to become his "golden age" as well as the "golden age of Hollywood film scoring." Victor Young was at the right place at the right time, where his abundant talent and gift for beautiful melodies would establish him as one of the great composers of film scores and popular songs.
Young became known for his facility to compose quickly (always an asset with impatient Hollywood producers), and for writing tuneful melodies which could be adapted into songs within films. His frequent songwriting partner was lyricist Eddie Heymann. Unfortunately because of the luck of the Hollywood draw, many of the films he scored so prolifically were not among the greatest motion pictures. Often his songs and title themes were among the most memorable aspects about them.
But a few of these films do stand out, and illustrate the range of movies Young was able to score. They include the prizefight drama "Golden Boy" (1939), "Northwest Mounted Police" (1940), the screwball Preston Sturges comedy "The Palm Beach Story" (1942), the adaptation of the Hemingway novel "For Whom The Bell Tolls" (1943), the romantic melodrama "Love Letters" (1945), the historical biography "The Emperor Waltz" (1948), the biblical costume drama "Samson and Delilah" (1949), the circus film "The Greatest Show On Earth" (1952), the classic western "Shane" (1953), "The Quiet Man" (1953), the wartime drama "Strategic Air Command" (1955) and the wide-screen extravaganza "Around The World in 80 Days" starring David Niven (1956.)
Although Young did much of his film scoring work under contract to Paramount, he also scored pictures for United Artists, M-G-M, 20th Century-Fox, Columbia and sometimes the B-picture studios Republic and RKO. He even composed a couple of themes for television during the 1950s. Young also was loaned out to score the 1954 20th Century-Fox romantic comedy "Three Coins In A Fountain", but did not compose the title song, which had already been assigned to the songwriting team of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.
One project that was of special interest was a series of "Tone Poems of Color" commissioned in 1956 by Capitol Records during the last year of Young's life. This was an instrumental LP album conducted by Frank Sinatra to commemorate the new recording studios in the brand new Capitol Records Tower building (shaped like a stack of phonograph records.) For this "concept album", a number of poems were written about colors by Norman Sickel. Then a number of top Hollywood composers were asked to contribute a short instrumental fantasy piece based upon the poem. In Young's case he was assigned the color poem "White." For it, he created a charming winter scene, derived from a pastorale background cue melody he had originally composed when he scored "Three Coins In A Fountain."
On November 10, 1956 Young was in Palm Springs composing the score for the 20th Century-Fox film "China Gate" when he suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 56. His colleague Max Steiner finished the "China Gate" score. Sadly, although his music was nominated 22 times for Academy Awards, Victor Young was never able to accept the Oscar he finally won for "Around The World in 80 Days" released that year, and his loss was mourned by many who loved great melodies.
was born in New Haven, Connecticut; "Al" as he was called then was a big
brother -- the eldest of a family of ten children; Having had the desire to
learn piano from an early age, he walked 10 miles daily to a friend of his
mother's in order to practice, since the family was too poor to own their
own parlor piano.
Al was somewhat of a child piano prodigy winning medals and awards before 12 at various recitals; As the result he studied with several teachers including the composer Busoni; At 13 he was good enough to land a job as a pianist at the Strand Theatre in New York City.
In New York he became friends with the brothers George and Ira Gershwin; This led to a job as a conductor of Broadway musical theatre, for which he had a natural talent; He also conducted several early Rodgers and Hart musicals.
It was Samuel Goldwyn who gave Newman his break in Hollywood -- Newman's first of over 200 film scores was written in 1930 for a production called "Whoopee!" Although Newman didn't stay with Goldwyn long enough to get involved at MGM, he did find a home for over two decades at the Twentieth Century-Fox studio as head of the music department.
Some of the films for which Newman composed and conducted scores included: The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Song of Bernadette (1943), All About Eve (1950), The Robe (1953), A Man Called Peter (1955), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), Anastasia (1956), April Love (1957), How The West Was Won (1963), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).
Alfred Newman was not only one of the great conductors of film music, and composer of many Oscar-nominated scores himself...he was one of those rare Hollywood souls who generously nurtured the talents and careers of many other men who became legends in the field of film composition -- including Bernard Herrmann, David Raksin and John Towner ("Johnny") Williams.
As a big brother often does, Alfred Newman led the way for other members of his family to become film composers. His brother Lionel Newman wrote the scores for nearly 40 films; and his lesser-known brother Emil scored over 50 films. Two of Alfred Newman's sons have even entered the family business -- David Newman has over 70 films to his credit to date, and Thomas Newman has over 50.
A smoker for decades, Alfred Newman passed away in Hollywood, a victim of emphysema, exactly one month short of his 69th birthday. He will be missed.
was born in Budapest, Hungary. Although his father was a
prosperous industrialist, his mother was a musician -- a pianist who
encouraged his musical interests. Growing up in school programs, he
performed with his violin and was considered a talented prodigy at a
young age. He began his formal music studies at the Leipzig
Conservatory of Music in Germany. He graduated in 1929, taught a bit
at the Conservatory for a couple of years himself, and moved to Paris
in 1932. His ambition in Paris was to continue to compose and publish
chamber music and try to win commissions for serious concert works.
Despite a joint concert with French composer Honegger in 1934, he was
having a hard time making a living this way. Honegger generously
explained to the young man that one could make a better living
composing for the movies to which sound had only recently
So he decided to set his sights on a more practical path, but had no immediate connections with the film industry. A few years later a ballet score he wrote on Hungarian themes had become popular in London. Through this success, he was invited in 1937 to compose his first film score for Alexander Korda, a fellow Hungarian. Through a mutual friend who bent the truth a bit to Korda about Rózsa's experience and connections, Korda was pursuaded to give his fellow countryman the chance of a lifetime -- to score his next picture, "Knight Without Armor" starring Marlene Dietrich.
Rózsa 's first effort was a success, and so Rózsa scored virtually all of Korda's pictures for the next four years. In 1940, Korda had decided to move to Hollywood to produce his pictures, and Miklós Rózsa came with him to work on post-production on such movies as "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940), "That Hamilton Woman"(1941), "Lydia" (1941) and "The Jungle Book" (1948). Rózsa was to make Southern California his home from that point onward. And when a 78-rpm record album project was made of Rózsa's music from "The Jungle Book", he had the distinction of being part of a pioneering effort -- to release film music on commercially available records to the public for the first time.
During this period of the early 1940s he married his wife Margaret, a secretary to Gracie Fields whom he met at a social evening in Hollywood. Rózsa was not under contract to any studio during this period. Despite his friendship with Korda, Rózsa needed more work, and fortunately found assignments composing for Columbia Pictures, United Artists, Universal Studios and Paramount. It was a period of tremendous opportunity for Rózsa, who scored several notable films during this period, including Billy Wilder's film noir "Double Indemnity" (1944), "The Lost Weekend" (1945), the psychological drama "Spellbound" (1945) in which Rózsa put the electronic Theremin to much use. His score for "The Killers" (1946) contained a cue called "Danger Ahead" which William Schumann unconsciously incorporated into the opening Main Title for the "Dragnet" radio and television series a few years later (which some writers call "Dum de Dum Dum".) Eventually Rózsa's publisher claimed infringement, and the case was settled by having both composers share credit for the "Dragnet Main Title."
Rózsa also scored "The Red House" (1947) and "The Naked City" (1948.) But in 1948, an opportunity to work as a staff composer for M-G-M which would bring Rózsa much more stature within the industry, and into wider public attention. His work for M-G-M began with him being assigned to score a variety of pictures, including gritty urban dramas "East Side, West Side"(1949) and "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950.) But by this time, Hollywood had realized that television would be taking the grittier path, and so major film studios would have to come up with another formula for entertainment that the small screen couldn't match. Of course, the answer was "wide screen extravaganzas."
M-G-M decided to produce historical wide-screen epics, and Rózsa was at the right place at the right time to score them. In fact scoring this type of film became his trademark during the rest of his career. As a musicologist and serious composer, Rózsa convinced the producers to let him go on location to Rome where the epics were being shot so he could continue researching the music of the early Greco-Roman era. This allowed him to sketch melodies as much as a year in advance of the final scoring -- a luxury most film composers didn't have.
Historical descriptions were sketchy at best of the music in Rome. Most of it was based upon Greek culture. A lot of pageantry in those times did include music, and it wasn't harmonized the way modern-day ears are used to. It was mostly a melodic unison of trumpets and greek harps and reed instruments and whatever instrument was handy (along with singing.) And sometimes for official appearances, the orchestras were huge.
So Rózsa realized he could take the general form of this type of music, and adapt it for "modern western ears", using the special Greek scales (called "Modes"), but harmonizing modal melodies in a more pleasing fashion to be acceptable by the audience and playable by a large studio orchestra. This became his trademark style for scoring historical epics. And he was wildly successful.
His first effort in this genre -- for M-G-M's biblical epic "Quo Vadis" -- appeared in 1951. This was quickly followed by a Anglo-Saxon epic "Ivanhoe" in 1952. Others in this style included the Shakespearean play set in Rome, "Julius Caesar" (1953), "Valley of the Kings" (1954), "Ben Hur" (1959), "King of Kings" (1961), "El Cid" (1961) and "Sodom and Gomorrah" (1962.) Many of these were recorded commercially and played on symphony concert programs, which brought Rózsa an extra source of income.
What many do not realize about Rózsa, was how versatile he was. He is somewhat "typecast" in the mind of some film collectors as a composer of epic historical dramas. But during this same decade of the 1950s and early 1960s, he was not just scoring historical epics, but many other films in other genres. These included the pilgrim crossing story "Plymouth Adventure" (1952), the romance drama "Story Of Three Loves" (1953), the science fiction picture "Moonfleet" (1955), the jungle trek story "Bhowani Junction" (1956), the Van Gogh biography "Lust For Life" (1956), and the contemporary drama "The V.I.P.'s" (1962.) Rózsa left M-G-M in 1962, and made more time for composing serious music and teaching.
During the 1970s when pictures were scored more by songwriters than "real" composers, Rózsa's opportunities slowed. He had enjoyed teaching -- from 1945 to 1967 he taught courses in scoring films at USC (The University of Southern California) at Los Angeles. But his pictures during the 1970s again showed his wide range and craftsmanship -- "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" (1970), "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" (1973), "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover" (1978), "Fedora" (1979) and "Time After Time" (1979.)
He decided to retire in 1981. His last film was a spoof of the film noir genre he scored many years before in "Double Indemnity" called "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid." Rózsa was one of the best managers of money of any film composer. He ended up with a very nice estate high in the Hollywood hills which included a large art collection. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 88.
was born in Richmond, Indiana. His mother and father were both
singers, and his mother taught piano and organ. His father did some
conducting. He was influenced by his parents to attend the Cincinatti
Conservatory of Music and the University of Cincinatti before
studying composition privately with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Duning
played trumpet in various symphony orchestras. He also played piano
and trumpet with various big bands and tried his hand at
He worked his way into a position as a staff arranger-conductor at NBC Radio in New York in 1932. He became the music director for Kay Kyser in the late 1930s, who hosted both a musical variety radio show, and a comedy quiz show called "The Kollege of Musical Knowledge." Duning came with Kyser when he moved to the West Coast in the late 1930s. But in 1942 Duning went into the Navy where he worked as a conductor/arranger for the Armed Forces Radio Service.
After World War II, he met Morris Stoloff and this led to a contract as a staff arranger for Columbia Pictures in Hollywood in 1944. He worked for Columbia for 17 years. He also was loaned out to various other major studios at times, as was the practice in the industry at the time.
His light touch and jazz music theory led to some interesting scores. But he was not as well known to the public as some of his colleagues who had a more sociable presence in Hollywood. Duning was a man who worked effectively "behind the scenes."
Some of the 200 motion pictures he scored during his 45 year film-scoring career included: "The Mysterious Intruder" (1946), "The Corpse Came C.O.D." (1947), "I Love Trouble" (1948), "To The Ends of the Earth" (1948), "And Baby Makes Three" (1949), "Jolson Sings Again" (1949), "No Sad Songs For Me" (1950), "Lorna Doone" (1951), "The Lady and The Bandit" (1951), "Sound Off" (1952), "Salome" [aka: "Dance of the Seven Veils"] (1953), "Last of the Comanches" (1953), "From Here To Eternity" (1953), "Picnic" (1955), "The Eddy Duchin Story" (1956), "3:10 to Yuma" (1957), "Houseboat" (1958), "Me and the Colonel" (1958), "Bell, Book and Candle" (1958), "Strangers When We Meet" (1960), "The World of Suzie Wong" (1960), "The Wackiest Ship In The Army" (1960), "The Devil at 4 O'Clock" (1961), "That Touch of Mink" (1962), "Toys In The Attic" (1963), "Ensign Pulver" (1964), "Any Wednesday" (1966), "Terror In The Wax Museum" (1974), "The Man With Bogart's Face" (1980.)
Beginning in the 1950s, his career included composing for television. He scored various movies of the week and TV series, including Themes for "The Turning Point" (1953), "Alcoa-Goodyear Theater" (1957), "The Naked City" (1958), "Tightrope!" (1959), "The Farmer's Daughter" (1963), "No Time For Sergeants" (1964), "The Big Valley" (1965), "Then Came Bronson" (1969), "The Most Deadly Game" (1970), "The Silent Force" (1970), "Getting Together" (1971), and "Zorro and Son" (1983.) Two of his episode scored for "Star Trek" have been recorded as well.
He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the performing rights organization ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) from 1972 to 1985.
Mr. Duning retired to La Jolla, California, where he was incapacitated by a stroke and passed away from cardio-vascular disease two days after his 92nd birthday in the year 2000.
was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. The son of working-class
Russian Immigrant parents, he won a scholarship to studio piano at
The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. In 1934 his Russian heritage
enabled him to be accepted as a scholarship student in music theory
at the Moscow Conservatory. After two years he was homesick for
America, and moved back to New York in 1936.
In New York, he studied with composer/orchestrator Ernst Toch who kept up a correspondence even after Toch moved to Hollywood. During this period Alex North gained increasing notice within New York as a young composer of ballet scores for Martha Graham, and for various theatrical productions including those for the Federal Theater Project wherein he met several people who were influential in his career including John Houseman and Elia Kazan.
In 1948 he had won the assignment to provide incidental music for the Broadway run of the play "Death Of A Salesman" by Arthur Miller. Elia Kazan was the director of this work which became an instant classic. And when a motion picture was to be made of the play, Kazan was hired as director and convinced Alex North to come West with him to work in Hollywood.
The score which certified North as a bankable entity in Hollywood was that he wrote for Tennessee Williams play "Streetcar Named Desire", which he composed when it was brought to the screen in 1951. Although North's brand of composition was eclectic, he utilized elements of jazz in the underscore for "Streetcar", which at the time was a revolutionary concept for scoring a motion picture. This led to scoring "The Rose Tattoo" another Tennessee Williams play made into a film.
North's use of jazz inspired several other Hollywood composers to use jazz elements in their scores during the 1950s, including Elmer Bernstein whose "Man With The Golden Arm" took the same approach, and Leonard Rosenman who was a classically-trained young composer who incorporated jazz and atonal music in his scores beginning with "The Chapman Report", Johnny Mandel whose first jazz-inflluenced score was "I Want To Live" , and nearly a decade later Henry Mancini who brought the concept to the small screen of TV in 1959's "Peter Gunn." But it was Alex North who paved the way for all of them back in 1951.
North also became influlential by experimenting with a modern compositional technique known as polytonality -- the use of two or more "keys" (tonal centers) -- creating a kind of "sandwich" of different musical keys used simultaneously in the high, middle and low registers. Polytonal harmonies were almost a signature of North's scores during the late 1950s and the 1960s. This also was a signature of Nelson Riddle's pop arrangements during the same period. But North used the technique fused with "serious" compositional devices in the scores to such pictures as the Roman costume drama "Spartacus" which boasts one of the most luxuriantly beautiful and exotic love themes of any Hollywood film.
During the1950s, North scored television dramas as well. His Main Title THEME for the prestigious CBS dramatic anthology program "Playhouse 90" was one of the most memorable classic television THEMEs of the era. Later in the 1970s, he wrote a THEME for "The Man and The City" which MCA/Universal TV produced for ABC starring Anthony Quinn.
A variety of dramatic film assignments were given to North throughout his career, including "The Rainmaker", "The Misfits", "The Agony and the Ecstasy", "The Bad Seed", "The Sound and The Fury", "I'll Cry Tomorrow", "The Long, Hot Summer", "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?", "All Fall Down", "Shoes of the Fisherman" and "Unchained" which led to his biggest hit -- the haunting "Unchained Melody." He got to score a couple of westerns too -- "Viva Zapata!", "Cheyenne Autumn" and "Man With The Gun."
North also got mixed up (by reputation only) in the most scandalous film disaster prior to Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" -- namely the 1963 costume epic "Cleopatra", which North scored. This ill-conceived multi-million-dollar box-office bomb starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. "Cleopatra" is one reason the Twentieth Century-Fox studio imploded, and had to sell off most of its real estate to become the Los Angeles office complex now called Century City.
Active late in his career, North scored adventure films "Dragonslayer" (1981), "Under The Volcano" (1984), and "Prizzi's Honor (1985.)"
But the most controversial score was one he created for "2001: A Space Odyssey." British Producer-Director Stanley Kubrick decided to reject North's modern atonal score entirely and use the pre-existing music he had become familiar with via a "temp track" he slapped together while editing the movie. Although this may have given some new life to some old warhorses like "The Blue Danube" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra", it was certainly a shame. No composer works so hard on a movie score only to have it shelved permanently, especially in favor of the "temp track." This was a major insult. It wasn't until the year 2001 that Jerry Goldsmith conducted a European orchestra in a CD recording of the Alex North Score for the film "2001."
In 1989 North retired and worked on a few concert pieces. He died from cancer at the age of 80, on September 8, 1991.
Raksin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When he was a boy,
his father ran a music store, and also composed, arranged and
conducted music for silent films which were exhibited at the
Metropolitan Opera House of Philadelphia. During his high school
years, young David learned a variety of instruments including
percussion, keyboards and woodwinds. He organized a local dance band
that played in Philadelphia, which also helped pay his tuition at the
University of Pennsylvania where he also studied music composition
His radio career also began locally at the CBS radio station in Philadelphia where he played music and led a local dance band. In 1933, he graduated from college and moved to New York where he was able to get a few arranging assignments for clients including Benny Goodman and radio conductor Al Goodman who had a pops concert program. His arrangement of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" led to a recommendation by Gershwin, and a job as a staff arranger for the prestigious New York publishing company Harms, Inc. that was allied with Chappell. At that time they supplied musical arrangements of many of the Broadway shows of the day.
Through his arrangements for Harms, he came to the attention of two of the top orchestrators working in Hollywood -- Edward Powell and Herbert Spencer. This was a lucky break for Raksin, who had decided his ambition was to become a film composer. So in 1953, the two veteran orchestrators recommended Raksin for an unusual assignment helping Alfred Newman at 20th Century-Fox decipher the singing and whistling of Charlie Chaplin who insisted on "composing" his own score for the Chaplin film "Modern Times", and to harmonize and arrange the tunes into something an orchestra could record. So Raksin came West for this temporary assignment, and it led to permanent work.
Initially the tempermental star Chaplin tried to "fire" the young Raksin on his first assignemtn, who was characteristically outspoken and honest (some might say to a fault.) But Alfred Newman liked the work that Raksin was doing turning Chaplin's melodic fragments into usable film cues -- and pursuaded Chaplin to continue working with him. The resulting film score did yield some memorable melodies that could not have come into being without the patient musical mid-wifery of David Raksin -- including the haunting love theme from the film, which was eventually called "Eternally" when lyrics were written for it.
The way Raksin handled this difficult assignment and translated it into a triumph led to an opportunity to join the staff of 20th Century-Fox, where he was given the role of a young "utility/fix-it man" -- and sometimes given a troublesome scoring situation which he managed to salvage. One of these was a small Otto Preminger film that led to perhaps the most famous of his scores -- "Laura" (1944.) The plot included a picture of a woman who was supposedly murdered by a jealous lover, which haunted the lead character - a detective assigned to find the killer.
Preminger initially requested that Raksin use a popular song for a re-curring melody symbolizing the mysterious murder victim Laura. But Raksin convinced the director to let him come up with an original melody. He was given a weekend to try to write a better melody. Due in part to Raksin's sadness over the breakup of his marraige, Raksin composed a haunting love theme used throughout the film. The studio wanted a lyric written, and despite his lack of clout, the young Raksin turned down a few initial lyrics submitted as unworthy, and insisted that none other than Johnny Mercer be given the assignment. The studio relented, and the result became an instant hit with the public, which helped establish Raksin's reputation.
Raksin also composed another haunting film theme for a motion picture about Hollywood itself, which has copyrights under its original title, "Tribute To A Bad Man", but ended up being released under the title "The Bad and The Beautiful" (1952.) His other pictures include a diversity of composing styles from the tender ballads to jazz-influenced, to more cerebral underscores. Among his notable film scores are: "Tampico" (1944), "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", "Forever Amber" (1947), "Force Of Evil" (1949), "The Magnificent Yankee" (1950), "Across The Wide Missouri" (1951), "Jubal" (1956), "Al Capone" (1959), "Too Late Blues" (1961), "Sylvia" (1964), "Will Penny" (1968) and "What's The Matter With Helen?" (1972.)
Raksin composed music for various short subjects and cartoons, most memorably "The Unicorn In the Garden" based upon the James Thurber story.
Raksin has also composed scores and Themes for Classic TV shows, including "Life With Father" -- the 1957 sitcom starring Leon Ames and Lurene Tuttle, a cold-war spy series "Five Fingers" (1959) starring James Mason, a new Main Title for the last season of the CBS detective serires, "The Line-Up" (1959), the Vince Edwards medical drama "Ben Casey" (1961), themes for the sitcom "Father of the Bride" (1962), and the psychological thriller "Breaking Point" (1963,)
Like Miklós Rózsa, David Raksin enjoyed teaching at the college level. In 1956 he began a long association with the Los Angeles campus of USC (The University of Southern California) where he was a music professor and administrator of the Film Scoring program through 2003, and also was a guest lecturer at UCLA, and a visiting professor at UC Santa Barbara.
In some ways, Raksin became a de-facto "Dean" of the remaining living film composers from the great "Classic" tradition of Hollywood, often interviewed on the subject of scoring movies, he continued to influence and inspire many younger composers just entering the studio system. He was invited by the Library of Congress to establish a collection of his film score manuscripts at its Music Division which he did in the 1980s.
Mr. Raksin passed away from heart failure, on August 9, 2004 just five days after his 92nd birthday.
Elmer Bernstein was born in New York City, New York. His family
had immigrated from The Ukraine (part of the Soviet Union.) He
discovered his early talents in graphic arts, dance and music.
Initially he began to prepare for a career as a concert pianist, studying as a teenager with a teacher at the Julliard School of Music. His teachers included composer Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions and Stefan Wolpe.
His studies were interrupted by the wartime military draft. During World War II he had an opportunity to try composing for the Army Air Corps Radio network. He then created a couple of scores for The United Nations Radio programs, which came to the attention of Sidney Buchman, who was a Vice President at Columbia Pictures. This led to his first scoring assignments for Columbia motion pictures -- "Saturday's Hero" (1950) and "Boots Malone" (1951) and a Joan Crawford picture "Sudden Fear" (1952.)
His career almost was sidetracked by the Hollywood witch-hunt of the McCarthy era. Since Bernstein had previously been sympathetic to groups which were labeled "left-wing", he suddenly found himself unable to work on major studio pictures. So he scored a couple of science-fiction films for low-budget Astor Studios -- "Robot Monster" (1953), and "Cat Women Of The Moon" (1953.)
It was Cecil B. DeMille who brought Bernstein an opportunity that led to his reputation being revived in Hollywood. Originally the offer was to write "dance music" for DeMille's biblical epic "The Ten Commandments" (released through Paramount in 1956.) But fate again played a hand, and the young composer was soon given the assignment of scoring the entire picture, which had so many musical cues, that scoring and recording it took nearly a year.
During the period of composing this traditional orchestral score for DeMille, Otto Preminger offered him another assignment which established Bernstein's name as a major composer -- the chance to score a drama for United Artists set in the world of drug abuse called "The Man With The Golden Arm" (1955.) Bernstein followed the lead of Alex North who had pioneered the use of jazz in movies, and created a jazz-influenced score that sizzled. Recordings of its Main Title Theme were soon prominent on the radio airwaves, and the instrumental theme reached the top twenty of the Billboard record sales chart. The success of this score led to another jazz scoring assignment for United Artists -- "The Sweet Smell of Success" (1957.) The record industry took note again in 1960 when a third jazz score elicited a catchy Main Title theme for "The Rat Race." And yet another time in 1962, for "A Walk On The Wild Side."
But there were many genres of film scoring Bernstein worked in during this same period which demonstrated his versatility so that he wasn't pigeon-holed as a jazz composer -- "Desire Under The Elms" (1958), "God's Little Acre" (1959), "Kings Go Forth" (1959), "Some Came Running" (1959), and "From The Terrace" (1960.)
In fact, another genre was to become the calling card for this New York City-born composer who had made a name for himself in jazz scoring -- the Hollywood western. In 1959, Bernstein had composed a theme for a western TV series called "Riverboat." He had experimented with combining the usual folk-cowboy modal harmonies with syncopated rhythmic figures for excitement. The combination was so effective he got a chance to use the same concept when he developed his Main Title/End Credits theme for a United Artists 1960 release, "The Magnificent Seven."
Bernstein had defined an updated sophisticated way of scoring the macho legend of the American cowboy. This instrumental theme also caught the attention of the recording industry. A recording by guitarist Al Caiola reached the Billboard Top 40 chart. The "Magnificent Seven" Theme was subsequently licensed for use behind a western-style television commercial for "The Marlboro Man", promoting Marlboro cigarettes for over a decade. Several other western assignments followed in years to come including "The Comancheros" (1961), "Hud" (1962), "The Sons of Katie Elder" (1965), "Return of The Seven" (1966), "Guns of The Magnificent Seven" (1969), the John Wayne classic "True Grit" (1969), another John Wayne western "Big Jake" (1971), "The Magnificent Seven Ride" (1972), "Cahill, U.S. Marshall" (1973), and John Wayne's final picture "The Shootist" (1976.)
The 1960s brought Bernstein other scoring opportunities, including "By Love Possessed" (1961), "Summer and Smoke" (1961), "The Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962), "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1963), "The Great Escape" (1963), "Love With The Proper Stranger" (1963), "The Carpetbaggers" (1963), "The World of Henry Orient" (1964), "The Silencers" (1966), James Michener's "Hawaii" (1966), "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" (1968), and "The Bridge at Remagen" (1969.)
Bernstein received 13 Academy Award nominations, winning the Oscar for his score of George Roy Hill's "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967.)
Bernstein's music themes for Television have been equally noticeable and memorable. They include the 1953 Opening Fanfare and End Credits Themes for "The General Electric Theater", a brash jazzy theme for "Johnny Staccato" [aka: "Staccato"] (1959), the classic western theme "Riverboat" (1959), the documentary series "Hollywood: The Golden Years" (1960), "The Beachcomber" (1961), "Saints and Sinners" (1962), "The Story Of..." (1962), "Hollywood & The Stars" (1963), "Slattery's People" (1964), "The Big Valley" (1965), "A B C Stage 67" (1967), "Julia" (1968), "Untamed World" (1969), "Owen Marshall: Counselor At Law" (1971), "The Rookies" (1972), "Ellery Queen" (1975), "Serpico" (1976), "NBC Best Sellers" (1976), "Little Women" (1978), "Today's F.B.I." (1981), "The National Geographic Specials" seen first on PBS (1991) and "The Rough Riders" (1997.)
Any composer in Hollywood would have considered the above lists a full resume and worthy of great pride. But Bernstein continued to work through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and has kept modernizing and evolving to provide music for such films as the college fraternity romp "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978), the slapstick spoof "Airplane" (1980), the military drama "Stripes" (1981), "An American Werewolf In London" (1981), the stylized animated feature "Heavy Metal" (1981), the horror film "The Chosen" (1982), "Trading Places" (1983), the science fiction comedy "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Spies Like Us" (1985), "My Left Foot" (1989) and the Martin Scorsese-produced film "The Grifters" (1990.) Bernstein also scored the 1991 remake of Universal's "Cape Fear" and the 1999 Will Smith feature film derived from the TV series "Wild, Wild West." His recent film scores include "Far From Heaven" (2002) and Martin Scorcese's "Gangs of New York" (2002.)
Mr. Bernstein was president of the Composers and Lyricists Guild, president of The Film Music Society, a vice-president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. and a vice-president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS.) He also has been a Professor at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles, where he teaches "Scoring for Motion Picture and Television."
Elmer Bernstein began as a student on the road to become a concert pianist in New York City, and became one of the most prolific and versatile composers who ever practiced the art and craft of music scoring. He died in his sleep at the age of 82 at his home in Ojai, California.
John Williams was born in Floral Park, Long Island, New York. His
father was a musician who no doubt had an influence on young Johnny's
choice of profession. In 1948, at the age of 16, the Williams family
relocated to the Los Angeles area. After high-school graduation, he
enrolled at UCLA where he studied piano and music theory. His
original goal was to become a concert pianist. But he also took
private composition lessons from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (who also
had taught George Duning, among others.) Williams left college for a
3-year stint in the Air Force, after which he returned to New York
City. There he took graduate studies at the Julliard School of Music,
and piano lessons from the famed piano instructor Madame Rosina
Lhevinne. During this same period, he played jazz piano at various
"gigs" in New York City, and got a start as a studio pianist for
His friendship with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco led to an opportunity to move west again to Los Angeles. He found work as a studio pianist on LA recording sessions. And in 1956 at age 24, he was hired by Morris Stoloff to work for Columbia Pictures as a staff orchestrator. He soon was offered a better opportunity to work at 20th Century-Fox, where he worked on projects with Alfred Newman, his brother Lionel Newman and Franz Waxman.
During this time he also continued to play piano on studio sessions, including those for Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini whose "Peter Gunn" was beginning to change the sound of background music on TV to include more jazz influences.
Had he been born a decade earlier, John Williams composing career might have been established via big band recordings or network radio. Instead it got established first in the area of composing for network television beginning in 1958, where his credits were under the name "Johnny Williams", the name under which he played studio piano.
At first he wrote TV episode scores; later both episode scores and main title themes. Some of the television series for which he wrote themes included "Checkmate" (1960), "Gunslinger" (1961), The third theme for "Bachelor Father" (circa 1960), "Alcoa Premiere" [aka: "Fred Astaire Premiere Theatre"] (1961), "The Wide Country" (1962), "(Bob Hope Presents) The Chrysler Theatre" (1963), the third theme for "Kraft Mystery Theatre" (circa 1963), the second theme for "Kraft Suspense Theatre" (circa 1964), "Lost In Space" (1965), "The Tammy Grimes Show" (1966), "The Time Tunnel" (1966), "Land Of The Giants" (1968), The American Collection Theme, for "Masterpiece Theatre" (circa 1971), "Evening At The Pops" (1981), The Mission Theme (1985) for "NBC Nightly News" and other NBC News programs including "Today on NBC", and various fanfares used for TV coverage of the Olympic Games (since 1982.)
During his career, John Williams scores for both television and film have ranged the gamut from jazz-rock to western adventure to fantasy/science-fiction to more cerebral. His first fully credited film score was for the 1959 American-International picture "Daddy-O" (a rock and roll film probably best appreciated at a drive-in movie setting.) During the next couple of years, the young composer was assigned predictable youthful films including "Because They're Young" (1960), "Bachelor Flat" (1961), "Gidget Goes To Rome" (1963) and "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home" (1964.)
In 1965, Warner Brothers gave him the chance to show what he could do for a more serious venue called "None But The Brave." This was followed in 1966 by "The Rare Breed" and "How To Steal a Million" -- a likeable romp with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole -- for which Williams composed a light-hearted Main Title tune featuring a piano. Williams also wrote the score for "A Guide For The Married Man" (1967), "Valley of the Dolls" (1967), "Fitzwilly" (1967), "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969) and a 1971 remake of "Jane Eyre."
Several of Williams scores were for western adventures, including "The Plainsman" (1966), "The Reivers" (1969), "The Cowboys" (1972), "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing" (1973) and "The Missouri Breaks" (1976.)
Williams had begun an association with Irwin Allen doing some of his TV series, mentioned above. He also scored a couple of Allen's "disaster epic" films, including "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) and "Earthquake" (1974) and "The Towering Inferno" (1974.)
Williams has scored most of Steven Spielberg's commercial films during the past 18 years, and has become associated so tightly with Spielberg's family blockbuster genre, that some people want to stereotype Williams scores as only capable of writing in the Korngold-inspired "symphonic adventure/fantasy" style. They forget, or are not aware, of the 15 years of Williams film and TV work before Spielberg, other films scored for other directors which were written in a range of styles -- and even the fact that many Spielberg scores vary from the norm.
Williams first filmscore for Steven Spielberg was his breakout hit with Goldie Hawn, titled "The Sugarland Express" (1974.) This was followed by scores for many other Spielberg films, including "Jaws" (1975), "Star Wars" (1977), "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "Jaws II" (1978), "1941" (1979), "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "E. T. (The Extra-Terrestrial)" (1982), "Return of the Jedi" (1983), "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984), "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade" (1989), "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989), "Hook" (1991), "Schindler's List" (1993), "Jurassic Park" (1993), "The Lost World" (1997), "Amistad" (1997), "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and "Artificial Intelligence: AI" (2001.)
Other notable Williams filmscores included the remake of Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers" (1964), "Goodbye Mr. Chips" (1969), "Pete 'n' Tillie" (1972), "The Paper Chase" (1973), "Cinderella Liberty" (1973), "The Long Goodbye" (1973), "The Eiger Sanction" (1975), "Midway" (1976), Alfred Hitchcock's "Family Plot" (1976), "Black Sunday" (1977), "The Witches of Eastwick" (1987), "Empire of the Sun" (1987), "The Accidental Tourist" (1988), "Presumed Innocent" (1990), "Home Alone" (1990), Oliver Stone's "JFK" (1991), "Far and Away" (1992), Oliver Stone's "Nixon" (1995), the remake of "Sabrina" (1995), "Sleepers" (1996), "Seven Years in Tibet" (1997), "Rosewood" (1997), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2002.)
In 1980, Williams sought to expand his career to conducting in a more public forum outside studios. He was principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 -1993, and has taken periodic tours with the orchestra since then. He has also been a guest conductor of many major orchestras around the world. And he was an Artist-in-Residence at the Tanglewood Music Festival.
Williams has composed a number of serious musical works, including two symphonies, several concertos and a song cycle for soloist and orchestra.
The John Williams Web Pages site
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