33¢ Hollywood Composers
Issue Date: September 16, 1999
City: Los Angeles, CA
Printed By: Sterling Sommer for Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
The 13th installment of the Legends of American Music series honors six of Hollywood's greatest composers. Max Steiner (1888-1971), Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979), Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), Franz Waxman (1906-67), Alfred Newman (1901-1970), and Erich Korngold (1897-1957) were all classically trained musicians who created orchestral scores to accompany feature films. Their soundtracks brought greater drama and feeling to the movies, and have stirred the emotions of millions of movie fans. Most of these composers' best-known works have been made available as audio recordings.
Max Steiner (1888-1971) was an accomplished composer and conductor by the age of 16. In 1906, Steiner moved to England where he composed music for the symphony, theater, vaudeville, and opera. Considered an enemy alien in England, Steiner was forced to leave the country in 1914. He arrived in New York with $32.
Steiner began composing music soon after his arrival in the United States. One of his first jobs was arranging music to be played during the screenings of silent films. He began working for RKO Radio Studios in 1929. The most famous product of Steiner’s work at RKO was “King Kong” (1933). He went on to score 111 pictures for the movie studio.
After RKO, Steiner was hired by David Selznick to score “Gone With the Wind” (1939). Steiner gave each important character in this epic film their own distinct musical theme. He later went to work for Warner Bros., where Steiner composed the music for “Casablanca” (1942) and “Mildred Pierce” (1945).
Steiner’s compositions were heard in over 300 motion pictures during his more than 30-year musical career. His scores for the films “The Informer” (1935), “Now, Voyager” (1942), and “Since You Went Away” (1944), each earned Steiner an Academy Award.
Russian-born composer Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) made musical contributions to more than 100 film scores during his career. Tiomkin received a degree in law as well as music from the St. Petersburg Academy, and toured Europe as a pianist. He later moved to Hollywood, and became an American citizen.
When he first arrived in America, Tiomkin’s songs were heard mostly in ballets. His involvement on Hollywood films began in earnest in 1933. Toward the end of the decade, Tiomkin began an association with director Frank Capra. The pair collaborated on several films, including “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936), “Lost Horizon” (1937), “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938), “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939), and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). He also composed music for the western movies “High Noon” (1952), which starred Gary Cooper, and the John Wayne films “Rio Bravo” (1959), and “The Alamo” (1960).
Tiomkin earned Academy Awards in recognition of the musical scores he composed for “High Noon,” “The High and the Mighty” (1954), and “The Old Man and the Sea” (1958). His song “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’) won Tiomkin an additional 1952 Oscar. He remained active in film until 1970.
The music in many classic movies can be attributed to Bernard Herrmann. Among the directors he worked with were Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Martin Scorsese. The first film he contributed to was “Citizen Kane” (1941), and the last was “Taxi Driver” (1976).
Early in his career, Herrmann (1911-1975) scored many of Orson Welles’ radio shows, including his famous presentation of “The War of the Worlds.” His concert music was performed by the New York Philharmonic, and he was a chief conductor of the CBS Symphony.
The music Herrmann created for film is known as being unorthodox. He used short, identifiable themes in place of longer melodies. The work he did on many of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies won him lasting fame. Herrmann wrote the haunting scores for Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) and “Vertigo” (1958). The violin “screams” he created for the shower scene in “Psycho” (1960) are still recognizable today.
Bernard Herrmann’s musical talents are showcased in several other films, including “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1941), which won over his “Citizen Kane” score for an Academy Award, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), and “The Bride Wore Black” (1968). Herrmann’s music can be heard in over 40 films.
Franz Waxman (1906-1967) composed the scores for 144 films during his 32 years as a Hollywood songwriter. Born in Germany, Waxman began his career as a banker because his father didn’t believe he could make a living as a musician. But he continued to study piano, harmony, and composition, and within a few years left the bank to pursue music as his profession.
Waxman played with the Weintraub Syncopaters, a popular jazz band, in the 1920s. This led him to orchestrate several early German films. The first U.S. film Waxman contributed to was Jerome Kern’s “Music in the Air” (1934). His first original Hollywood score was “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). His work on this movie earned Waxman a two-year contract with Universal as head of the studio’s music department.
After Universal, Waxman went on to compose songs for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films. His music can be heard in the Spencer Tracy movies “Captains Courageous,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “Woman of the Year.” In 1943 he moved to Warner Bros.
“Sunset Boulevard” earned Waxman an Academy Award in 1950. He won an Oscar again in 1951 for “A Place in the Sun,” making him the only composer to win an Academy Award for best film score two years in a row.
Alfred Newman (1907-1970) was one of the most respected music composers and directors in Hollywood. He was nominated to receive an Academy Award for best music a record 44 times. His nine Oscar wins set a record that is unlikely ever to be broken.
The oldest of ten children born to a poor produce seller in New Haven, Connecticut, Newman displayed a musical talent at a young age. He worked his way up from vaudeville to the Broadway orchestra pit, and eventually gained the attention of composer Irving Berlin. Berlin made the move to Hollywood when sound pictures had just started being produced, and arranged for Newman to go with him.
In the early years of his career, Newman worked with Samuel Goldwyn and United Artists. Later he worked as the music director at 20th Century Fox. Newman’s first Academy Award came in 1939 for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” His last Oscar was for the 1967 film “Camelot.”
Newman’s 40-year career as a Hollywood composer made him an authority on film music. He was often approached by other music arrangers and composers when the movie they were working on ran into trouble. His final soundtrack, for “Airport” (1970), earned Alfred Newman his last Academy Award nomination.
Erich W. Korngold
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was a child prodigy. His technical skills and understanding of music combined to make him one of the most talented, yet underrated, musical figures of the 20th century.
Born in Austria, the young Korngold was referred to as “a new Mozart.” His father was a powerful music critic in Vienna. At the age of 10, Korngold performed an excerpt from his original piece “Gold” for Gustav Mahler, then the most influential composer in Vienna. When he was 13, Korngold’s opera “The Snowman” became a hit, and the show was performed on the stages of 40 different opera houses over the following years.
The composer’s greatest success came in 1920 when his opera “Die Tote Stadt” (“The Dead City”) was performed in Germany. After World War II, “Die Tote Stadt” became the first German opera produced by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
In 1934, Korngold supervised the scoring of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for Warner Bros., which was his first work in Hollywood. Korngold scored “Captain Blood,” one of Errol Flynn’s premier films, in 1935. He later signed a contract with Warner Bros., and won Academy Awards for “Anthony Adverse” (1936), and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938).