Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner (May 10, 1888 – December 28, 1971) was an Austrian-born American music composer for theatre and films, as well as a conductor. He was a child prodigy who conducted his first operetta when he was twelve and became a full-time professional, either composing, arranging, or conducting, when he was fifteen.
Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner|
May 10, 1888
Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now Austria)
December 28, 1971 (aged 83)|
|Occupation||Composer, arranger, conductor|
(m. 1927; div. 1933)
(m. 1936; div. 1946)
Leonette "Lee" Steiner
Steiner worked in England, then Broadway, and in 1929 he moved to Hollywood, where he became one of the first composers to write music scores for films. He was referred to as "the father of film music". Steiner played a major part in creating the tradition of writing music for films, along with composers Dimitri Tiomkin, Franz Waxman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, and Miklós Rózsa.
Steiner composed over 300 film scores with RKO Pictures and Warner Bros., and was nominated for 24 Academy Awards, winning three: The Informer (1935); Now, Voyager (1942); and Since You Went Away (1944). Besides his Oscar-winning scores, some of Steiner's popular works include King Kong (1933), Little Women (1933), Jezebel (1938), and Casablanca (1942), though he did not score the song As Time Goes By that made up the love theme in Casablanca. In addition, Steiner scored The Searchers (1956), A Summer Place (1959), and Gone with the Wind (1939), which ranked second on AFI's list of best American film scores, and the film score for which he is best known.
He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, which he won for his score for Life with Father. Steiner was a frequent collaborator with some of the most famous film directors in history, including Michael Curtiz, John Ford, and William Wyler, and scored many of the films with Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Fred Astaire. Many of his film scores are available as separate soundtrack recordings.
Early years (1888–1907)Edit
Steiner was born on May 10, 1888, in Austria-Hungary. He was the only child in a wealthy business and theatrical family of Jewish heritage. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Maximilian Steiner (1839–1880), who was credited with first persuading Johann Strauss II to write for the theater, and was the influential manager of Vienna's historic Theater an der Wien. His father was the Hungarian-Jewish Gábor Steiner (1858–1944, born in Temesvár, Kingdom of Hungary, Austrian Empire), a Viennese impresario, carnival exposition manager, and inventor, responsible for building the Wiener Riesenrad. His father encouraged Steiner's musical talent, and allowed him to conduct an American operetta, The Belle of New York which allowed Steiner to gain early recognition by the operetta's author, Gustave Kerker. Steiner's mother Marie was a dancer in stage productions put on by his grandfather when she was young, but later became involved in the restaurant business.:26,37:56 His godfather was the composer Richard Strauss. Max Steiner often credited his family for inspiring his early musical abilities. As early as six years old, Steiner was taking three or four piano lessons a week and often became bored of the lessons. Because of this, he would practice improvising on his own and his father would encourage him to write his music down. Steiner cited that his early improvisation influenced his taste in music, claiming that his background in improvisation influenced his interest in the music of Claude Debussy which was "avant garde" for the time.:2 In his youth, he began his composing career through his work on marches for regimental bands and hit songs for a show put on by his father.:2
His parents sent Steiner to the Vienna University of Technology, but he expressed little interest in scholastic subjects. He enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Music in 1904, where, due to his precocious musical talents and private tutoring by Robert Fuchs, and Gustav Mahler, he completed a four-year course in only one year, winning himself a gold medal from the academy. He studied various instruments including piano, organ, violin, double bass, and trumpet. His preferred and best instrument was the piano, but he acknowledged the importance of being familiar with what the other instruments could do. He also had courses in harmony, counterpoint, and composition.:56:2 Along with Mahler and Fuchs, he cited his teachers as Felix Weingartner and Edmund Eysler.:2 For his early achievements he was awarded a gold medal by the academy. At the age of twelve, he was allowed to conduct the Viennese premiere of the operetta Die Schöne von New York by Gustave Kerker at his father's theatre.:3
Beginning music career (1907–1914)Edit
Between 1907 and 1914, Steiner traveled between Britain and Europe to work on theatrical productions.:4 Steiner first entered the world of professional music when he was fifteen. He wrote and conducted the operetta, The Beautiful Greek Girl, but his refused to stage it saying that it wasn't good enough. Steiner took the composition to competing impresario Carl Tuschl who offered to produce it. Much to Steiner's pleasure, it run in the Orpheum Theatre for a year.:58 This led to opportunities to conduct other shows in various cities around the world, including Moscow and Hamburg. Upon returning to Vienna, Steiner found his father in bankruptcy. Having difficulties finding work, he moved to London (in part to follow an English showgirl hed met in Vienna).:58 In London, he was invited to conduct Lehar's The Merry Widow. He stayed in London for eight years conducting musicals at Daly's Theatre, the Adelphi, the Hippodrome, the London Pavilion and the Blackpool Winter Gardens. Max Steiner married Beatrice Stilt on September 12, 1912. The exact date of their divorce is unknown.
In England, Steiner wrote and conducted theater productions and symphonies. But in 1914, World War I started and he was interned as an enemy alien. Fortunately, he was befriended by the Duke of Westminster, who was a fan of his work, and was given exit papers to go to America, although his money was impounded. He arrived in New York City in December 1914, with only $32 to his name. Unable to quickly find work, he resorted to menial jobs such as a copyist for Harms Music Publishing which quickly led him to jobs orchestrating stage musicals.:58
The music of Edmund Eysler was an early influence in the pieces of Max Steiner.:2 One of his first introductions to operetta's was by Franz Lehár who worked for a time as a military bandmaster for Steiner's father's theatre.:3 Steiner paid tribute to Lehár through an operetta modeled after Lehár's Die lustige Witwe which Steiner staged in 1907 in Vienna.:3 Eysler was well-known for his operettas though as critiqued by Richard Traubner, the libretti were poor, with a fairly simple style, and the music often relying too heavily on the Viennese waltz style. As a result, when Steiner started writing pieces for the theater, he was interested in writing libretto as his teacher had, but had minimal success. However, many of his film scores such as Dark Victory (1939), In This Our Life (1941) and Now Voyager (1942) had frequent waltz melodies as influenced by Eysler.:2 Author of Max Steiner's "Now Voyager", Kate Daubney stated that Max Steiner may have been influenced by Felix Weingartner who conducted the Vienna Opera from 1908 to 1911. Although he took composition classes from Weingartner, as a young boy, Steiner wanted to be a great conductor.:3
Broadway music (1914–1929)Edit
Steiner soon acquired employment and worked in New York for fifteen years as a musical director, arranger, orchestrator, and conductor of Broadway productions. These productions include operettas and musicals written by Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, and George Gershwin, among others. Steiner's credits include: George White's Scandals (1922) (director), Peaches (1923) (composer), and Lady, Be Good (1924) (conductor and orchestrator). During his time working on Broadway, he married Audree van Lieu on April 27, 1927. They divorced on December 14, 1933.
In 1927, Steiner orchestrated and conducted Harry Tierney's Rio Rita. Tierney himself later requested that RKO Pictures in Hollywood hire Steiner to work in their music production departments. William LeBaron, RKO's head of production, traveled to New York to watch Steiner conduct and was impressed by Steiner and his musicians, who each played several instruments. Eventually Steiner became a Hollywood asset. Steiner's final production on Broadway was Sons O' Guns in 1929.
Scoring for RKO (1929–1937)Edit
RKO hired Max Steiner on as an orchestrator and his first film jobs consisted of composing music for the main and end titles and occasional "on screen" music.:112-113 Steiner's first job was for the film Dixiana; however, after awhile RKO decided to let him go, feeling that they weren't really using him. His agent found him a job as a musical director on an operetta in Atlantic City. Before he left RKO, they offered him a month to month contract as the head of the Music Department with promise more work in the future and he agreed.:18 In Kurt London's Film Music, he expressed the opinion that American film music was inferior to European film music because it lacked originality of composition; he cited the music of Max Steiner as an exception to the rule. Because the few composers in Hollywood were unavailable, Steiner composed his first film score for Cimarron. The score was well received and was partially credited for the success of the film.:18 During his thirty-five year career, he worked on over three-hundred films.:56 Max married Louise Klos, a harpist, in 1936. They had a son, Ron, together and they divorced in 1946. In 1947, Max married Leonette Blair. In 1932, Steiner was asked to add music to Symphony of Six Million (1932), by David O. Selznick, the new producer at RKO. Steiner composed a short segment that Selznick liked so much that he asked him to compose the theme and underscoring for the entire picture. Selznick was very proud of the film, feeling that it gave a realistic view of Jewish family life and tradition.:75 "Music until then had not been used very much for underscoring." Steiner "pioneered the use of original composition as background scoring for films." The successful scoring in the film was a turning point for Steiner's career and for the film industry; after the underscoring of Symphony of Six Million, a third to half of the success of most films was "attributed to the extensive use of music."
The score for King Kong (1933) became Steiner's breakthrough.:55 The score was such an integral part of the film, because it added realism to such an unrealistic film plot.:28 The studio's bosses were initially skeptical about the need for an original score; however, since they disliked the film's contrived special effects, they let Steiner try to improve the film with music. The studio suggested using old tracks in order to save on the cost of the film. But, King Kong producer Merian C. Cooper asked Steiner to score the film anyway and said he would pay for the orchestra. Steiner took advantage of this offer and used an eighty-piece orchestra, explaining that the film "was made for music. It was the kind of film that allowed you to do anything and everything, from weird chords and dissonances to pretty melodies.". Steiner also scored the wild tribal music that accompanied the ceremony to sacrifice Ann to Kong. He wrote the score in two weeks and the music recording cost around $50,000.:58 The film became a "landmark of film scoring", as it showed the power music has to manipulate audience emotions.:113:29 Steiner constructed the score on Wagnerian leitmotif principle, which calls for special themes for leading characters and concepts. The theme of the monster is recognizable as a descending three-note chromatic motif. After the death of King Kong, the Kong theme and the Fay Wray theme converge, underling the "Beauty and the Beast" type relationship between the characters. The music in the film's finale helped express the tender feelings that Kong had for the woman without the film having the explicitly state it.:29 The majority of the music is heavy and loud, but some of the music is a bit lighter. For example, when the ship sails into Skull Island, Steiner keeps the music calm and quiet with a small amount of texture in the harps to help characterize the ship as it cautiously moves through the misty waters.:29
The film quickly made Steiner one of the most respected names in Hollywood. He continued as RKOs music director for two more years, until 1936. During this time, he composed, arranged and conducted another 55 films, including most of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance musicals. He also wrote a sonata used in Katharine Hepburn's first film, Bill of Divorcement (1932). RKO producers, including Selznick, often came to him when they had problems with films, treating him as if he were a "doctor." Steiner was asked to compose a score for Of Human Bondage (1934), which originally lacked music. He added musical touches to significant scenes. Director John Ford called on Steiner to score his film, The Lost Patrol (1934), which lacked tension without music.
John Ford again hired Steiner to compose for his next film, The Informer (1935) before Ford actually began production. Ford even asked his screenwriter to meet with Steiner during the writing phase to collaborate. This was unusual for Steiner who typically refused to compose a score from anything earlier than a rough cut of the film. Because Steiner scored the music before and during film production, Ford would sometimes shoot scenes in synchronization with the music that Steiner composed rather than the usual practice of film composers synchronizing music to the film's scenes. Steiner directly influenced the development of the protagonist Gypo. Victor McLagen, who played Gypo, rehearsed his walking in order to match the fumbling leitmotif that Steiner had created for Gypo.:124-125 This unique film production practice paid off, as the film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won four, including Steiner's first Academy Award for Best Score. This score helps to exemplify Steiner's ability to encompass the essence of a film in a single theme.:29 The main title of the film's soundtrack has three specific aspects. First, the heavy-march like theme helps to describe the oppressive military and main character Gypo's inevitable downfall. Second, the character's theme is sterne and sober and puts the audience into the correct mood for the film. Finally, the theme of the music contains some Irish folk song influences which serves to better characterize the Irish historical setting and influence of the film.:30 The theme is not heard consistently throughout the film and serves rather as a framework for the other melodic motifs heard throughout different parts of the film.:30
The score for this film is made up of many different themes which characterize the different personnages and situations in the film. Max Steiner helps portray the genuine love that Katie has for the main character Gypo. In one scene, Katie calls after Gypo as a solo violin echos the falling cadence of her voice. In another scene, Gypo sees an advertisement for a for a steamship to America and instead of the advertisement, sees himself holding Katie's hand on the ship. Wedding bells are heard along with organ music and he sees Katie wearing a veil and holding a bouquet. In a later scene, the Katie theme plays as a drunk Gypo sees a beautiful woman at the bar, insinuating that he had mistaken her for Katie.:30 Other musical themes included in the film score are an Irish folk song on French horns for Frankie McPhilip, a warm string theme for Dan and Gallagher and Mary McPhillip, and a sad theme on english horn with harp for the blind man.:30The most important motif in the film is the theme of betrayal relating to how Gypo betrays his friend Frankie: the "blood-money" motif. The theme is heard as the Captain throws the money on the table after Frankie is killed. The theme is a four note descending tune on harp; the first interval is the tritone. As the men are deciding who will be the executioner, the motif is repeated quietly and perpetually to establish Gypo's guilt and the musical motif is synchronized with the dripping of water in the prison. As it appears in the end of the film, the theme is played at a fortissimo volume as Gypo staggers into the church, ending the climax with the clap of the cymbals, indicating that Gypo's penitence, no longer needing to establish his guilt.:31
Silent film mannerisms are still seen in Steiner's composition such as when actions or consequences are accompanied by a sforzato chord immediately before it, followed by silence. An example of this is remarked in the part of the film when Frankie confronts Gypo looking at his reward for arrest poster. Steiner uses minor "Mickey mousing" techniques in the film.:32 Through this score, Steiner shows the potential of film music, as he attempts the show the internal struggles inside of Gypo's mind through the mixing of different themes such as the Irish "Circassian Circle", the "blood-money" motif, and Frankie's theme. According to composer and film music writer Christopher Palmer, Steiner's use of Franz Schubert's Ave Maria at the end of the film was the score's only flaw. He wrote that the theme as Gypo dies in the church was too void of spiritual ecstasy and similarly ruined the ending of Disney's Fantasia.:32
Composing for Warner Bros. (1937–1953)Edit
In April 1937, Steiner left RKO and signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros.; he could, however, continue to work for Selznick. The first film he scored for Warner Bros. was The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). Steiner became a mainstay at Warner Bros., scoring 140 of their films over the next 30 years alongside Hollywood stars such as Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, and James Cagney.:56
There are numerous soundtrack recordings of Steiner's music, both as soundtracks, collections, and recordings by others. Steiner wrote into his seventies, ailing and near blind, but his compositions "revealed a freshness and fertility of invention." A theme for A Summer Place in 1959, written when Steiner was 71, became one of Warner Brothers' biggest hit-tunes for years and a re-recorded pop standard. Steiner also scored 18 of Bette Davis's romantic dramas. In 1939, Steiner was borrowed from Warner Bros. by Selznick to compose the score for Gone with the Wind (1939), which became one of Steiner's most notable successes. Steiner was the only composer Selznick considered for scoring the film. Steiner was given only three months to complete the score, despite composing twelve more film scores that year, more than he would in any other year of his career. When the film was released, it was the longest film score ever composed, nearly three hours. The composition consisted of 16 main themes and almost 300 musical segments. To meet the deadline, Steiner sometimes worked for 20-hours straight, assisted by doctor-administered Benzedrine to stay awake. Selznick had asked Steiner to use only pre-existing classical music to help cut down on cost and time, but Steiner tried to convince him that filling the picture with swatches of classic concert music or popular works would not be as effective as an original score, which could be used to heighten the emotional content of scenes. Nevertheless, Steiner ignored Selznick's wishes and composed an entirely new score. Selznick's opinion about using original scoring may have changed due to the overwhelming reaction to the film, nearly all of which contained Steiner's music. A year later, he even wrote a letter emphasizing the value of original film scores. :227 The film went on to win ten Academy Awards, although not for the best original score, which instead went to Herbert Stothart for the musical The Wizard of Oz. The score is ranked #2 by AFI as the second greatest American film score of all time.
After finishing Now, Voyager (1942), Steiner was hired to score the music for Casablanca (1942). Steiner would typically wait until the film was edited before scoring it, and after watching Casablanca, he decided that the song "As Time Goes By" by Herman Hupfeld wasn't an appropriate addition to the movie and he wanted to replace it with a song of his own composition. However, Ingrid Bergman had just cut her hair short in preparation for filming For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), so she couldn't re-film the section with Steiner's song. Stuck with "As Time Goes By", Steiner embraced the song and made it the center theme of his score.:254-255 Steiner's score for Casablanca was nominated for the Academy Award for best score, losing to The Song of Bernadette (1943).:319 Steiner received his third and final Oscar in 1944 for Since You Went Away (1944). Steiner actually first composed the theme from Since You Went Away while helping Franz Waxman with his score for Rebecca. Producer David O. Selznick liked the theme so much, he asked Steiner to include it in Since You Went Away.:78
With two exceptions, Steiner was less successful with the film noir genre due to the "modernistic" music that those films often require. The Big Sleep and The Letter were his best film noir scores.:32 The Letter is set in Singapore, the tale of murder begins with the main musical theme of the film loudly during the credits, sets the tense and violent mood of the film. The main theme characterizes Leslie, the main character, by her tragic passion.:32-33 The main theme is heard in the confrontation between Leslie and the murdered man's wife in the Chinese shop. Steiner portrays this scene through the jangling of wind chimes which crescendos as the wife emerges through opium smoke. The jangling continues until the wife asks Leslie to take off her shawl, after which the theme blasts indicating the breaking point of emotions of these women.:33 Max Steiner's score for The Letter was nominated for the 1941 Academy award for best original score, losing to Pinocchio. In this score for The Big Sleep, Steiner uses musical thematic characterization for the characters in the film. The theme for Philip Marlowe is beguiling and ironic, with a playful grace note at the end of the motif, portrayed mixed between major and minor. At the end of the film, his theme is played fully in major chords and finishes by abruptly ending the chord as the film terminates (this was an unusual film music practice in Hollywood at the time).:33,48 According to Christopher Palmer, the love theme between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is one of Steiner strongest themes. Steiner uses the contrast of high strings and low strings and brass to emphasize Bogart's feelings for Bacall opposed with the brutality of the criminal world.:35
Steiner had more success with the western genre of film, writing the scores for over twenty large-scale Westerns, most with epic-inspiring scores "about empire building and progress" like Dodge City (1939), The Oklahoma Kid (1939), and The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944). Dodge City, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, is a good example of Steiner's handling of typical scenes of the Western genre. Steiner used a "lifting, loping melody" that reflected the movement and sounds of wagons, horses and cattle. Steiner showed a love for combining Westerns and romance, as he did in They Died with Their Boots On (1941), also starring Flynn and de Havilland. Considered his greatest Western is The Searchers (1956).
Later works (1953–1965)Edit
Although his contract ended in 1953, Steiner returned to Warner Bros. in 1958 and scored several films, and ventured into television. He continued to score films produced by Warner until the mid sixties. Steiner's pace slowed significantly in the mid-1950s, and he began freelancing. In 1954, RCA Victor asked Steiner to prepare and conduct an orchestral suite of music from Gone with the Wind for a special LP, which was later issued on CD. There are also acetates of Steiner conducting the Warner Brothers studio orchestra in music from some of his film scores. Composer Victor Young and Max Steiner were good friends, and Steiner completed the film score for China Gate as Young had died before he could finish it. The credit frame reads: "Music by Victor Young, extended by his old friend, Max Steiner".:48 In 1959, he composed the score for the film A Summer Place. The memorable instrumental theme composed by Steiner spent nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1960 (in an instrumental cover version by Percy Faith).
In 1963, Steiner began writing his autobiography, which, although completed, was never published, and is the only source available on Steiner's childhood. A copy of the manuscript resides with the rest of the Max Steiner Collection at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Steiner scored his last piece in 1965; however, he would have scored more films had he been offered that opportunity. His lack of work in the last years of his life were due to Hollywood's decreased interest in his scores caused by new film producers and new taste in film music. Another contribution to his declining career was his failing eyesight and deteriorating health, which caused him to reluctantly retire.:59,66 Tony Thomas cited his last few scores as, "a weak coda to a mighty career".:92
Methods of composingEdit
Steiner explains that in the early days of sound, producers avoided underscoring music behind dialogue, feeling that the audience would wonder where the music was coming from. As a result, he notes that "they began to add a little music here and there to support love scenes or silent sequences." But in scenes where music might be expected, such as a nightclub, ballroom or theater, the orchestra fit in more naturally and was used often. In order to justify the addition of music in scenes where it wasn't expected, music was integrated into the scene through characters or added more conspicuously. For example, a shepherd boy might play a flute along with the orchestra heard in the background or a random, wandering violinist might follow around a couple during a love scene.:57
However, because half of the music was recorded on the set, Steiner says it led to a great deal of inconvenience and cost when scenes were later edited, because the score would often be ruined. As recording technology improved during this period, he was able to record the music synced to the film and could change the score after the film was edited. Steiner explains his own typical method of scoring:
When a picture is finished and finally edited, it is turned over to me. Then I time it: not by stop watch, however, as many do. I have the film put through a special measuring machine and then a cue sheet created which gives me the exact time, to a split second, in which an action takes place, or a word is spoken. While these cue sheets are being made, I begin to work on themes for the different characters and scenes, but without regard to the required timing. During this period I also digest what I have seen, and try to plan the music for this picture.
There may be a scene that is played a shade too slowly which I might be able to quicken with a little animated music; or, to a scene that is too fast, I may be able to give a little more feeling by using slower music. Or perhaps the music can clarify a character's emotion, such as intense suffering, which is not demanded or fully revealed by a silent close-up.
Steiner often followed his instincts and his own reasoning in creating film scores. For example, when he chose to go against Selznick's instruction to use classical music for Gone With the Wind. Steiner stated:
It is my conviction that familiar music, however popular, does not aid the underlying score of a dramatic picture. I believe that, while the American people are more musically minded than any other nation in the world, they are still not entirely familiar with all the old and new masters' works ... Of course there are many in our industry who disagree with my viewpoint.
Scores from the classics were sometimes harmful to a picture, especially when they drew unwanted attention to themselves by virtue of their familiarity. For example, films like 2001 – A Space Odyssey, The Sting and Manhattan, had scores that were easily recognized instead of having a preferred "subliminal" effect. Steiner, was among the first to acknowledge the need for original scores for each film.
Steiner felt that knowing when to start and stop was the hardest part of proper scoring, since incorrect placement of music can speed up a scene meant to be slow and vice versa: "Knowing the difference is what makes a film composer." He also notes that many composers, contrary to his own technique, would fail to subordinate the music to the film:
I've always tried to subordinate myself to the picture. A lot of composers make the mistake of thinking of film as a concert platform on which they can show off. This is not the place ... If you get too decorative, you lose your appeal to the emotions. My theory is that the music should be felt rather than heard.
With Steiner's background in his European musical training largely consisting of operas and operettas and his experience with stage music, he brought with him a slew of old-fashioned techniques that he contributed to the development of the Hollywood film score.:55
Although Max Steiner has been called, "the man who invented modern film music", Steiner claimed that, "the idea originated with Richard Wagner...If Wagner had lived in this century, he would have been the No. 1 film composer." Wagner was the inventor of the Wagnerian leitmotif and this influenced Max Steiner's composition.:29 In his music, Steiner relied heavily on leitmotifs. He would also quote pre existing, recognizable melodies in his scores such as national anthems. Steiner was known and often criticized for his use of Mickey Mousing or "catching the action". This technique is characterized by the precise matching of music with the actions or gestures on screen. Steiner was criticized for using this technique too frequently.:56 For example, in Of Human Bondage Steiner created a limping effect with his music whenever the clubfooted character walked.:88
One of the important principles that guided Steiner whenever possible was his rule: Every character should have a theme. "Steiner creates a musical picture that tells us all we need to know about the character." To accomplish this, Steiner synchronized the music, the narrative action and the leitmotif as a structural framework for his compositions.
- For the physically crippled heroine, Laura, Steiner had to "somehow capture in sound her escape from the tawdriness of reality into her make-believe world of glass figures ... The result is tone-colour of an appropriately glassy quality; ... a free use of vibraphone, celesta, piano, glockenspiel and triangle enhances the fragility and beauty of the sound."
- For Laura's well-traveled soldier brother: "Tom's theme has a big-city blues-type resonance. It is also rich and warm ... [and] tells us something of Tom's good-hearted nature."
- For Jim, Laura's long-awaited 'gentleman caller' who soon transforms her life: Steiner's "clean-limbed melody reflects his likeableness and honesty ... Elements of Jim's theme are built into the dance-band music at the 'Paradise' as he assures her of her essential beauty and begins successfully to counter her deep-seated inferiority complex. Upon their return home, the music darkens the scene in preparation for Jim's disclosure that he is already committed to another girl."
Another film which exemplifies the synchronizing of character and music is The Fountainhead (1949): The character of Roark, an idealist architect (played by Gary Cooper):
Steiner's theme for the hero is fraught with a true emotion and a genuine idealism and aspiration. It surges upward in 'masculine' style, whilst Roark's mistress's theme wends downwards in curves of typically feminine shapeliness ... He above, she traveling up in the workmen's elevator: the music seems to draw them together in mutual fulfillment ... The score brings dignity and grandeur to the picture.
In the same way that Steiner created a theme for each character in a film, Steiner's music developed themes to express emotional aspects of general scenes which originally lacked emotional content. For example:
- King Kong (1933): The music told the story of what was happening in the film. It expressed Kong's "feelings of tenderness towards his helpless victim." The music underscores feelings that the camera simply cannot express. The score of the film showed "the basic power of music to terrorize and to humanize."
- The Letter (1940), starring Bette Davis: The music of this film creates an atmosphere of "tropical tension and violence" by "blasting the credits fortissimo across the theater." Steiner's score emphasizes the tragic and passionate themes of the film.
- The Big Sleep (1946): The music of this film "darkens to match" the changing atmosphere of the film. It creates a claustrophobic feeling by including high strings "pitted rhythmically" against low strings and brass.
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948): Steiner uses the music to intensify the anguish of Bogart and Holt, when they are left to dig a mine in the hot sun. The music "assumes the character of a fiercely protesting funeral march." The timing of the music caves in as the mind caves in on Bogart. The music also serves to emphasize the theme of greed. It "tells us the nature of the thoughts flashing through Holt's mind as he stands outside the ruined mine." However, when the warm tones of the music rise again, it reflects Holt's goodness as he saves Bogart from the collapsed mine. This "climax is marked by a grandioso statement of the theme on full orchestra."
Another technique that Steiner used was the mixing of realistic and background music. For example, a character humming to himself is realistic music, and the orchestra might play his tune, creating a background music effect that ties into the film. However, Steiner was criticized for this technique as the awareness of the film music can often ruin the narrative illusion of the film.:88-89 Steiner was known for writing using atmospheric music without melodic content for certain neutral scenes in music. Steiner desiged a melodic motion to create normal sounding music without taking too much attention away from the film.:91
Awards and honorsEdit
Max Steiner won three Academy Awards for Best Original Score for The Informer (1935), Now, Voyager (1942), and Since You Went Away (1944).:xvii Aside from his three wins, fifteen of Steiner's film scores were nominated for Academy Awards.:9 The United States Postal Service issued its "American Music Series" stamps on September 16, 1999 to pay tribute to renowned Hollywood composers, including Steiner. After Steiner's death, Charles Gerhardt conducted the National Philharmonic Orchestra in an RCA Victor album of highlights from Steiner's career, titled Now Voyager. He also won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score for Life with Father (1947) Additional selections of Steiner scores were included on other RCA classic film albums during the early 1970s. The quadraphonic recordings were later digitally remastered for Dolby surround sound and released on CD. In 1975, Steiner was honored with a star located at 1551 Vine Street on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to motion pictures. In 1995, Steiner was inducted posthumously into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In commemoration of Steiner's 100th birthday a memorial plaque was unveiled by Helmut Zilk, then Mayor of Vienna, in 1988 at Steiner's birthplace, the Hotel Nordbahn (now Austria Classic Hotel Wien) on Praterstraße 72.
Influence and legacyEdit
Max Steiner, along with contemporaries Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Alfred Newman set the style and forms of film music of the time period and for film scores to come.:39 Roy Webb was also Max Steiner's contemporary and they were friends until Steiner's death. Webb's score for Mighty Joe Young was reminiscent of Steiner.:162-163,183 James Bond composer John Barry cited Max Steiner as an influence of his work. James Newton Howard, who composed the score for the 2005 remake of King Kong, stated that he was influenced by Max Steiner's score, citing that his descending theme when Kong first appears is reminiscent of Max Steiner's score. Composer of the Star Wars film score, John Williams cited Max Steiner as well as other European emigrant composers in the 1930s golden age of film as influences of his work. In fact, George Lucas wanted Williams to use the scores of Steiner and Korngold as influences for the music for Star Wars, despite the fact that grandiose film music was out of fashion during the 1970s.
Often compared to his contemporary Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the music of Steiner was often seen as inferior to that of Korngold. Composer David Raksin stated that the music of Korngold was, "...of a higher older with a much wider sweep".:257 Despite the inferiority of Steiner's scores, his influence was largely historical. Steiner was the one of the first composers to reintroduce music into films after the invention of talking films. His film King Kong (1933) modeled the method of adding background music into a movie.:258
The American Film Institute respectively ranked Steiner's scores for Gone with the Wind (1939) and King Kong (1933) #2 and #13 on their list of the 25 greatest film scores. His scores for the following films were also nominated for the list:
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- on YouTube, trailer to documentary film
- Max Steiner discography at Discogs
- Max Steiner on IMDb
- Max Steiner at the Internet Broadway Database
- Max Steiner at AmericanComposers.com
- Max Steiner at Find a Grave
- Max Steiner music and photographs, MSS 6131 at L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University
- Max Steiner sound recording from The Informer, MSS 8705 at L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University
- Max Steiner Christmas cards, MSS 6914 at L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University
- on YouTube, film documentary trailer
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