|Miklós Rózsa is
the composer most closely identified with noir. He was a Hungarian-born
composer trained in Germany, and active in France, war-time Britain,
and later in the United States, with extensive sojourns in Italy,
during a career spanning more than 60 years (1931-1995). His music was
at times Wagnerian, brooding and atmospheric, conveying the dark moods
of noir, and at other times frenetic and electrifying, suggesting the
fast pace of modern urban existence. These contrasts are clearly
evident in his score for Double
Rózsa won Academy Awards for two noir scores, Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), and A Double Life (1947), the story of a deranged stage actor who becomes obsessed with his role as Othello. Ironically, Rózsa once described his musical career as a “double life” because, although he composed more than one hundred film scores, he maintained a steadfast allegiance to absolute concert music throughout his career.
-- From a website about Film Noir
Miklos Rozsa, 88, Composer of Film Music
By RICHARD SEVERO
Published in The New York Times, July 29, 1995
Miklos Rozsa, whose opulent scores for some of Hollywood's most lavish epics earned him three Academy Awards, died at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles on Thursday. He was 88.
He had suffered a stroke about three weeks ago and been put on life support, family members told the Associated Press.
Mr. Rozsa was known for doing meticulous research before composing for his films, which included "The Four Feathers" (1939), "The Thief of Baghdad" (1940), "Jungle Book" (1942), "Quo Vadis" (1951), "Ivanhoe" (1952), "Julius Caesar" (1953), "Ben-Hur" (1959) and "El Cid" (1961).
The re-creation of ancient music was his most difficult challenge, since only the most fragmentary suggestions remained of what the ancients listened to. So for "Quo Vadis" he had nonfunctioning copies of ancient Roman instruments made, then tried to imagine how they might have sounded. And for "Ben Hur," he went to Rome and stood on Palatine Hill, trying to imagine what had happened on the Via Sacra 2,000 years earlier.
"I began to whistle scraps of ideas and to march about excitedly and rhythmically," he recalled years later. "Two young girls looked at me in terror and fled, muttering 'pazzo' " -- which means "madman" -- but of my lunacy was born 'Parade of the Charioteers,' which is now played at football matches and university festivities all over America."
Mr. Rozsa was so prolific that he frequently competed against himself for honors. In 1945, for example, he won his first Oscar for the score for "Spellbound," but would have preferred winning the award for his music for "The Lost Weekend," nominated at the same time. Mr. Rozsa said he felt "The Lost Weekend" had "the stronger score." Both scores used large studio orchestras and featured the theremin, an early electronic instrument that wailed like a cross between a neurotic contralto and a frightened viola.
He was awarded his second Oscar for "A Double Life" (1947) and his third for the music for "Ben-Hur" (1959).
Although best known for his movie music, Mr. Rozsa also composed many works for the concert hall, including tone poems, rhapsodies, variations and concertos, many of them reflecting his interest in the folk music of his native Hungary. His Concerto for Violin was given its premiere in 1956 by Jascha Heifetz. His Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello and chamber orchestra was written in 1966 for the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
Mr. Rozsa was born in Budapest on April 18, 1907. His father was a successful land-owning industrialist who ran unsuccessfully for Parliament. His mother, born in Budapest, aspired to be a concert pianist and studied at the Budapest Academy before her marriage.
Young Miklos started composing music and playing the violin when he was 5 years old. Although he showed considerable talent, his father strongly suggested that he study chemistry at the University of Budapest. The son dutifully complied, but he studied at the Music Conservatory at the same time. Later, after his father relented, he went to Leipzig, Germany, and studied composition and violin.
In 1931 he went to Paris, where he wrote some chamber music that won the approval of the composer Arthur Honegger. In the late 1930's Mr. Rozsa was introduced to Alexander Korda, a fellow Hungarian who had established London Films with his brothers, Vincent and Zoltan, and was achieving considerable success.
Alexander Korda commissioned Mr. Rozsa, who had seen few movies and hadn't the slightest idea how to write a score, to create the music for "Knight Without Armor," a 1937 film starring Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat. At about the same time, Akos Tolnay, a script writer who was also Hungarian, asked Mr. Rozsa to score another movie, "Thunder in the City."
He scoured bookshops on Charing Cross Road for works on film music and managed to write the two scores. After that, commissions came quickly. In the years that followed he produced scores for such well-received films as "Five Graves to Cairo," "Sahara" and "So Proudly We Hail" (all 1943); "Double Indemnity" (1944); "A Song to Remember" and "Blood on the Sun" (both 1945); "The Killers" and "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" (both 1946); "The Red House" and "Brute Force" (both 1947), and "The Naked City" and "Criss Cross" (both 1948).
Among the other films for which he created scores were "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950), "Something of Value" (1957), "The V.I.P.'s" (1963), "The Green Berets" (1968), "Time After Time" (1979), and "Eye of the Needle" (1981).
Mr. Rozsa married the former Margaret Finlason in 1943 and dedicated his Concerto for Strings to her. She survives him, as do a daughter, Juliet Rozsa-Brown of West Los Angeles; a son, Nicolas, of San Francisco; a sister, Edith Jankay of Redlands, Calif., and three granddaughters.
© 1987 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded on the telephone on June 27,
1987. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1989, 1992 and
A copy of the unedited audio was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern University, and also in
the Rozsa Archives. This
transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.