To say that Miklos Rozsa was a prolific composer of music for the cinema is certainly an understatement, plus we should not forget Rozsa was not just a composer of magnificent film scores but also wrote music for the concert hall another area in which he excelled. Born in Budapest Hungary in 1907, Rozsa was the son of an influential industrialist and land owner. Rozsa came from an affluent family and most of his early years were spent at the family’s country estate in the county of NOGRAD which lay close to the Matra mountains. His first encounter wit music came when his was just five years of age, it was then that he began to study the viola and piano, just three years later after celebrating his eighth birthday he began to perform in public and made his initial attempts at composing music. His Father however was convinced that music was not the right career move for his Son, so insisted that Rozsa should set out to get an all round good education. Miklos attended a High school in Budapest for this education, but still remained actively involved in his study of music. After a while he moved to Leipzig where he began to study Chemistry. These studies however were short lived and after some intervention by Herrmann Grabner Rozsa’s Father was persuaded to allow his son to study music on a full time basis and concentrate on making it his career. He began to study at the Leipzig conservatory and in his last years there would often stand in for Tutors giving lectures and also instructing fellow students. Rozsa’s first published orchestral work was a piece entitled HUNGARIAN SERENADE for small orchestra which was given its premiere performance in Budapest during the summer of 1929 by The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Erno Dohnanyi (sometimes known as Ernst von Dohnányi). The piece was well received and garnered Rozsa much acclaim from composers such as Richard Strauss.
Rozsa soon established himself as a composer of note and built up an impressive musical canon, he collaborated with his friend and fellow composer Arthur Honegger to stage a concert of their combined musical works at the Salle Debussy in Paris. It was whilst working alongside Honegger that Rozsa heard the composer’s music for the move LES MISERABLES and became interested in the concept of writing music for the cinema and utilizing music to heighten the dramatic impact of film. After watching LES MISERABLES and seeing how music enhanced the images on screen Rozsa decided that composing music for movies was what he wanted to do. In 1936, he travelled to England to work on a ballet entitled HUNGARIA, and whilst there was asked to compose the score for Alexader Korda’s production of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937).
The movie and also Rozsa’s musical score were a great success and later that year the composer was engaged to write the music for another Korda production THUNDER IN THE CITY (1937), shortly after this assignment the composer was signed to the permanent staff of London films which was Korda’s production company. Rozsa first major scoring assignment came in 1939, when he wrote the music for THE FOUR FEATHERS, after this he worked on a movie that is probably still regarded by many as the composers most accomplished and memorable work for cinema which was THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940). The film and the music thrilled and delighted audiences all over the world and became a lucrative production for the Korda organisation and was also the score that would lead Rozsa to Hollywood, this was because of the outbreak of WWll and the entire production of the movie including Rozsa being relocated to the United States who at that time were not involved in the conflict. The composer’s first Hollywood score was to come two years later when he penned the soundtrack to Korda’s THE JUNGLE BOOK (1942). The composer made a recording of a suite of music from the movie and also included narration on the recording by the films star Sabu, this was the first time that film music had been released on a recording in the United States and it proved to be very popular.
In 1945 the composer wrote the score for Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND and his hauntingly mesmerising soundtrack established him even more as a composer of worth and also garnered him an Academy Award for his efforts, in the same year Rozsa composed the music for Billy Wilders THE LOST WEEKEND and for this he employed what is probably the first electronic instrument within the score the Theremin. In 1947 the composer was awarded the Oscar for his music to George Cukor’s A DOUBLE LIFE and one year later Rozsa joined the staff at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, it is probably true to say that it was whilst at M.G.M that the composer was at his most prolific, writing the scores to such movies as QUO VADIS (1951), BEN HUR (1959), EL CID (1961) and KING OF KINGS (1962). He was awarded an Oscar for his monumental soundtrack to BEN HUR and received much acclaim for his epic score to EL CID. The latter becoming a firm favourite among numerous collectors of film music. As the Golden age of film music reached its sunset and the Silver age began to dawn film making trends and practices altered and styles of film production changed (not necessarily for the better) thus many up and coming film makers were attempting to create their own unique approaches to making movies and this did include the way in which music was utilized within film. Younger composers were beginning to break into the film music arena and although not turning their backs on the what had up till then been the traditional way of scoring movies were inventing new sounds and styles.
Rozsa however still remained busy during this period even though he had himself acknowledged that EL CID was his last major film score. The composer created a number of noteworthy scores that in many connoisseurs opinions were more worthy than the films they were intended to enhance. There were also thankfully a number of production that were creditable vessels for his wonderful themes, these in my opinion included, PROVIDENCE, THE LAST EMBRACE, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, TIME AFTER TIME and DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, the latter title including a score that parodied Rozsa’s own style and sound that he had employed in movies such as THE NAKED CITY, THE KILLERS and BRUTE FORCE.
During the 1980,s the composer was forced to retire from writing music because of failing eyesight, he passed away on July 27th 1995 aged 88, he left behind a rich and varied tapestry of musical works and is still influencing film music in the 21st Century via his powerful, sumptuous, haunting and innovative style of composing for the motion picture industry.