Los Angeles -- To some Miklos Rosza was the Holy Grail of film music. The grand master, the quintessential auteur, the maestro par excellence, rivaled only by the late great Max Steiner. The man who brought us that grand sentimental score which defined the Golden Age of Hollywood filmed entertainment, with its now famous nostalgic sentimental melody, popularly known as "Tara's Theme" from the movie classic "Gone With The Wind".
By far the Golden age of Hollywood was beyond just Golden it was Platinum. Movies that were released from that era, had a style unequaled, though the stories were simple and the plot lines predictable, they were unsurpassed in quality and excellence, and their music was of no doubt one of the key integral elements that went into the final polish that became the trademark of their timeless appeal and continued success to this very day.
Along with Max Steiner, Franz Waxmen, Arnold Korngold, Bernard Hermann, Demetri Tiomkin, and Alfred Newman, Miklos Rosza's artistry and craftsmanship established the grammatical fundamentals of scoring a film and laid the foundation for subsequent film music techniques and styling arrangements, framing the narrative without intruding on the plot and character development, enhancing rather than detracting from the story as many productions do today in order to sell tickets and land lucrative distribution licensing and merchandising agreements. They were the pioneers, the founding fathers of the art and craft of scoring a film for mass appeal.
According to Wikipedia the following excerpt gives us a brief glimpse of Dr. Rosza. The citations are highlighted with links for your reference and further research opportunity depending on your level of interest.
Miklós Rózsa was born in Budapest and was introduced to classical and folk music by his mother, Regina Berkovits, a pianist who had studied with pupils of Franz Liszt, and his father, Gyula, a well-to-do industrialist and landowner who loved Hungarian folk music. Rózsa's maternal uncle Lajos Berkovits, violinist with the Budapest Opera, presented young Miklós with his first instrument at the age of five. He later took up the viola and piano. By age eight he was performing in public and composing. He also collected folksongs from the area where his family had a country estate north of Budapest in an area inhabited by the Palóc Hungarians.
Rózsa found Budapest culture constraining and sought to study music in Germany. He enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1925, ostensibly to study chemistry at the behest of his father. Determined to become a composer, he transferred to the Leipzig Conservatory the following year. There he studied composition with Hermann Grabner, a former student of Max Reger. He also studied choral music with (and later assisted) Karl Straube at the Thomaskirche, where Johann Sebastian Bach had once been the organist. Rózsa emerged from these years with a deep respect for the German musical tradition, which would always temper the Hungarian nationalism of his musical style.
Rózsa's first two published works, the String Trio, Op. 1, and the Piano Quintet, Op. 2, were issued in Leipzig by Breitkopf & Härtel. In 1929 he received his diplomas cum laude. For a time he remained in Leipzig as Grabner's assistant, but at the suggestion of the French organist and composer Marcel Dupré, he moved to Paris in 1932.
Rózsa was introduced to film music in 1934 by his friend, the Swiss-born composer Arthur Honegger. Following a concert which featured their respective compositions, Honegger mentioned that he supplemented his income as a composer of film scores, including the 1934 film Les Misérables. Rózsa went to see it and was greatly impressed by the opportunities the film medium offered.
However, it was not until Rózsa moved to London that he was hired to compose his first film score, for the 1937 film Knight Without Armour, produced by his fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda. After his next score, for the 1937 film Thunder in the City, he joined the staff of Korda's London Films, and scored the studio's 1939 epic film The Four Feathers.
In 1939, Rózsa travelled with Korda to Hollywood to complete the work on the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad. The film earned him his first Academy Award nomination. A further two followed in 1940 for his scores to Lydia and Sundown. In 1943, he received his fourth nomination for Korda's 1942 film Jungle Book.
In 1943, Rózsa scored his first of several collaborations with director Billy Wilder starting with Five Graves to Cairo, the same year that he also scored the similarly themed Humphrey Bogart film Sahara. In 1944, his scores for his second Wilder collaboration, Double Indemnity, and for The Woman of the Town, earned him separate Academy Award nominations in the same year. However, Max Steiner won the Oscar for that year for Since You Went Away.
In 1945, Rózsa was hired to compose the score for Alfred Hitchcock's film Spellbound, after Bernard Herrmann became unavailable due to other commitments. The score, notable for pioneering the use of the theremin, was immensely successful and earned him his first Oscar. However, Hitchcock disliked the score, saying it "got in the way of his direction". Two of his other scores from that year, The Lost Weekendand A Song to Remember, were also nominated. Rózsa, who also reportedly hated the interruptions and interference by producer David O Selznick, never worked for either Hitchcock or Selznick again.
Rózsa earned another Oscar nomination for scoring the 1946 film The Killers which introduced Burt Lancaster to film audiences. Rózsa received his second Oscar the following year for A Double Life, which also won Ronald Colman an Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1947, Rózsa and Eugene Zador orchestrated music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for the film Song of Scheherazade, about a fictional episode in the composer's life. Rózsa also wrote original music for the film. Among the other films scored by Rózsa during the 1940s were the prison drama Brute Force (1947), also with Lancaster, and The Naked City (1948), the latter also including music by Frank Skinner. Both of those films were directed by Jules Dassin.
Madame Bovary (1949) was Rózsa's first important score for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which produced most of the future films that he scored. Other popular scores that he composed for MGM pictures include Quo Vadis (1951), Ivanhoe (1952), Ben-Hur (1959), King of Kings (1961) and The V.I.P.s (1963). For Ben-Hur, he received his third and final Oscar. His final two nominations (one each for Best Original Score and Best Original Song) were for the 1961 Samuel Bronston film El Cid.
In 1968, Rózsa was asked to score The Green Berets, after Elmer Bernstein turned it down due to his political beliefs. Rózsa initially declined the offer, saying, "I don't do westerns." However, he agreed to compose the score after being informed, "It's not a Western, it's an 'Eastern'." He produced a strong and varied score, which included a night club vocal by a Vietnamese singer Bạch Yến. However, one cue which incorporated stanzas of "Onward Christian Soldiers" was deleted from the film's final edit.
His popular film scores during the 1970s included his last two Billy Wilder collaborations The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and Fedora (1978), the Ray Harryhausen fantasy sequel The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), the latter-day color film noir Last Embrace starring Roy Scheider, and the time-travel fantasy film Time After Time (1979) for which Rózsa won a Science Fiction Film Award, saying in his televised acceptance speech that of all the film scores he had ever composed, it was the one he had worked on the hardest.
After completing work on the music for the 1981 spy thriller Eye of the Needle, Rózsa's last film score was for the black-and-white 1982 Steve Martin film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, a comic homage to the film noir of the 1940s, a genre to which Rozsa himself had contributed decades earlier. Although Rózsa's career as a composer for films ended following a stroke he suffered while on holiday in Italy later that year, he continued to compose various concert pieces thereafter. He returned to California at the behest of his son, and remained sequestered at his home for the remainder of his life.
Rozsa died on 27 July 1995 and is buried at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills.
Might I add he was a great admirer of the two great Hungarian composers of the early 20th Century Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, and you can hear their influence in his music, even his non film work which is quite extensive. Yet he remains better known and admired for his career defining body of music from such classics as The Thief of Baghdad, Quo Vadis, Knights of The Round Table, Ivanhoe, El Cid, King of Kings and of course the all time block buster Ben Hur which earned him an Oscar(R), his third, and 10 more for his fellow artists, in total 11 Academy trophies making Ben Hur the most Oscared(R) film, only matched a half a century later by another block buster Titanic.
The film score you are listening too is from the 1961 Samuel Bronston production of the famed legendary Spanish hero Rodrigo Diaz aka El Cid, who some credit by sheer tenacity and cult personality as well as good military tactics to have successfully defended Christian Spain from the onslaught of the Moors eventually leading to their exit out of the Iberian Peninsula. Thus ending the 400 year Arab occupation of Medieval Spain. A fact check is probably needed here. And you are welcome to do so.
This was Rosza's last major work on an epic of this scale. Hollywood stopped making pictures like this after the disastrous Cleopatra and the jaded Fall of The Roman Empire, another Bronston production.
So their you have it the first of many that I hope will follow as part of the radio entertainment component of our interactive multi-channel web zine My Hollywood Journal. I am Ramsay Seikaly, your host of this ongoing tributary series of music from the entertainment world.
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