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Miklos Rozsa

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Miklos Rozsa

Miklós Rózsa
Born Miklós Rózsa
(1907-04-18)18 April 1907
Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary)
Died 27 July 1995(1995-07-27) (aged 88)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation composer, conductor
Years active 1918–1989
Spouse(s) Margaret Finlason (1943-1995; his death; 2 children)
Miklos Rozsa Society

Miklós Rózsa (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈmikloːʃ ˈroːʒɒ]; 18 April 1907 – 27 July 1995) was a Hungarian-born composer trained in Germany (1925–1931), and active in France (1931–1935), England (1935–1940), and the United States (1940–1995), with extensive sojourns in Italy from 1953.[1] Best known for his nearly one hundred film scores, he nevertheless maintained a steadfast allegiance to absolute concert music throughout what he called his "double life."[2]

Rózsa achieved early success in Europe with his orchestral Theme, Variations, and Finale (Op. 13) of 1933 and became prominent in the film industry from such early scores as The Four Feathers (1939) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). The latter project brought him to America when production was transferred from wartime Britain, and Rózsa remained in the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1946. His notable Hollywood career earned him considerable fame, including Academy Awards for Spellbound (1945), A Double Life (1947), and Ben-Hur (1959), while his concert works were championed by such major artists as Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, and János Starker.

Early life

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.[3] 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.[4]

In Paris, Rózsa composed classical music, including his Hungarian Serenade for small orchestra, Op. 10 (later revised and renumbered as Op. 25) and the Theme, Variations, and Finale, Op. 13, which was especially well received and was performed by conductors such as Charles Munch, Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, Eugene Ormandy, and Leonard Bernstein.

Film scoring career

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 film Les Misérables (1934). 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 Knight Without Armour (1937), produced by his fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda. After his next score, for Thunder in the City (1937), he joined the staff of Korda's London Films, and scored the studio's epic The Four Feathers (1939).

In 1939, Rózsa travelled with Korda to Hollywood to complete the work on the The Thief of Bagdad (1940) The film earned him his first Academy Award nomination. A further two followed with Lydia (1940) and Sundown (1941). In 1943, he received his fourth nomination for Korda's Jungle Book (1942)

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,[5] 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 Weekend and 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 Killers (1946) which introduced Burt Lancaster to film audiences. The famed 'dum-da-dum-dum' theme for the Dragnet radio and TV show plagiarized that of Rozsa's The Killers main theme, and he successfully sued for damages, and subsequently was given co-credit for the Dragnet theme. Rózsa received his second Oscar in 1947 for A Double Life, which also won Ronald Colman an Academy Award for Best Actor. That same year 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 later 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 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 spy thriller Eye of the Needle (1981), Rózsa's last film score was for the black-and-white Steve Martin film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), a comic homage to the film noir of the 1940s, a genre to which Rozsa himself had contributed scores. 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; one of his last works being Sonata for Ondes Martenot, op. 45 (1989).[6] 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.[7]

Film scores

Concert works

Rózsa's first major success, and for years his best-known concert work, was the orchestral Theme, Variations, and Finale, Op. 13, introduced in Duisberg, Germany, in 1934 and soon taken up by Charles Munch, Karl Böhm, Bruno Walter, Hans Swarowsky, and other leading conductors. It was first played in the United States by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock and achieved wide exposure through a 1943 New York Philharmonic concert broadcast when Leonard Bernstein made his famous conducting debut.

By 1952, his film score work was proving so successful that he was able to negotiate a clause in his contract with MGM that gave him three months each year away from the film studio so that he could focus on concert music.

Rózsa's Violin Concerto, Op. 24, was composed in 1953-54 for the violinist Jascha Heifetz, who collaborated with the composer in fine-tuning it. The work evokes the passion of native Hungarian music. Rózsa later adapted portions of this work for the score of Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), the plot of which, Wilder has said, was inspired by Rózsa's concerto.

Rózsa's Cello Concerto, Op. 32 was written much later (1967–68) at the request of the cellist János Starker, who premiered the work in Berlin in 1969.

Between his violin and cello concertos, Rózsa composed his Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 29, for violin, cello, and orchestra. The commissioning artists, Heifetz and his frequent collaborator Gregor Piatigorsky, never performed the finished work, although they did record a reduced version of the slow movement, called Tema con Variazoni, Op. 29a.

Rózsa also received recognition for his choral works. His collaboration with conductor Maurice Skones and The Choir of the West at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, resulted in a commercial recording of his sacred choral works — To Everything There is a Season, Op. 20; The Vanities of Life, Op. 30; and The Twenty-Third Psalm, Op. 34 — produced by John Steven Lasher and recorded by Allen Giles for the Entr'acte Recording Society in 1978.

The following works for orchestra, solo instruments with orchestra, and concert versions of film scores are as listed by the Miklós Rózsa Society website:


  • Hungaria, Ballet (1935)


  • Symphony in 3 Movements, Op. 6 (1930, revised 1993)
  • Serenade for small orchestra, Op. 10 (1932); revised 1946 as Op. 25
  • Scherzo, Op. 11 (1932)
  • Theme, Variations and Finale, Op. 13 (1933, revised 1943 and 1966)
  • 3 Hungarian Sketches (Capriccio, Pastorale e Danza), Op. 14 (1938, revised 1958)
  • Concerto for string orchestra, Op. 17 (1943, revised 1957)
  • Kaleidoscope, 6 Short Pieces for small orchestra, Op. 19a (1946); original for piano
  • Andante for string orchestra, Op. 22a
  • The Vintner's Daughter, 12 Variations on a French Folk Song, Op. 23a (1952); original for piano
  • Hungarian Serenade for small orchestra, Op. 25 (1945)
  • Concert Overture, Op. 26 (1957, revised 1963)
  • Notturno ungherese, Op. 28 (1964)
  • Tripartita for orchestra, Op. 33 (1972)
  • Festive Flourish for brass and percussion (1975)
Concert versions of film scores
  • The Thief of Bagdad Suite (1940)
  • Lady Hamilton Love Theme (1941)
  • Lydia: Love Theme and Waltz (1941)
  • Spellbound Concerto for orchestra (1946); also for piano and orchestra
  • The Red House Suite (1947)
  • Mark Hellinger Suite (1948)
  • The Madame Bovary Waltz (1949)
  • Quo Vadis Suite (1951)
  • Lust for Life Suite (1956)
  • Ben-Hur Suite (1959)
  • El Cid Suite (1963)


  • Rhapsody for cello and orchestra, Op. 3 (1929); original for cello and piano
  • Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song for violin and orchestra, Op. 4 (1929); original for violin and piano
  • North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances for violin and orchestra, Op. 5 (1929); original for violin and piano
  • Spellbound Concerto for piano and orchestra (1946); also for orchestra
  • Concerto for violin and orchestra, Op. 24 (1953–1954)
  • Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello and orchestra, Op. 29 (1966)
  • Tema con Variazoni for violin, cello and chamber orchestra, Op. 29a (1966); movement II of Sinfonia Concertante
  • Concerto for piano and orchestra, Op. 31 (1967)
  • Concerto for cello and orchestra, Op. 32 (1967–1968); written for and premiered by János Starker
  • Concerto for viola and orchestra, Op. 37 (1979)
  • New England Concerto for 2 pianos and orchestra (1984); themes from Lydia and Time Out of Mind

Chamber and instrumental music

  • String Trio, Serenade for violin, viola and cello, Op. 1 (1927; revised 1974)
  • Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 2 (1928)
  • Rhapsody for cello and piano, Op. 3 (1929); also orchestrated
  • Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song for violin and piano, Op. 4 (1929); also orchestrated
  • North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances for violin and piano, Op. 5 (1929); also orchestrated
  • Duo for violin and piano, Op. 7 (1931)
  • Duo for cello and piano, Op. 8 (1931)
  • Sonata for 2 violins, Op. 15 (1933; revised 1973)
  • String Quartet No. 1, Op. 22 (1950)
  • Sonatina for clarinet solo, Op. 27 (1957)
  • Toccata capricciosa for cello solo, Op. 36 (1977); dedicated to the memory of Gregor Piatigorsky and premiered by Jeffrey Solow
  • String Quartet No. 2, Op. 38 (1981)
  • Sonata for flute solo, Op. 39 (1983)
  • Sonata for violin solo, Op. 40 (1985–1986)
  • Sonata for clarinet solo, Op. 41 (1986); premiered 1987 by Gervase de Peyer
  • Sonata for guitar, Op. 42 (1986)
  • Sonata for oboe solo, Op. 43 (1987)
  • Introduction and Allegro for viola solo, Op. 44 (1988)
  • Sonatina for ondes Martenot, Op. 45 (1989)


  • Variations, Op. 9 (1932)
  • 6 Bagatelles, Little Pieces for Play and Dance, Op. 12 (1932)
  • Kaleidoscope, Op. 19 (1946); also for small orchestra
  • Sonata, Op. 20 (1948)
  • The Vintner's Daughter, 12 Variations on a French Folk Song, Op. 23 (1952); also for orchestra


  1. Invocation
  2. Beasts of Burden
  • High Flight, Song for tenor and piano (1942, 1974); words by John Magee
  • The Jungle Book, Suite for narrator and orchestra (1942); based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling
  • Nostalgia, 2 Songs for soprano or tenor and piano (1972); words by Michel Gyarmathy
  1. My Little Town (Balassagyarmat)
  2. The Land Where My Heart Lies (Én ha mostan)


  • Lullaby from The Jungle Book for mixed chorus a cappella (1942)
  • 2 Choruses for female voices a cappella, Op. 18 (1946); words by Max Krone
  1. Lullaby
  2. Madrigal of Spring
  • To Everything There Is a Season, Motet for mixed chorus, with organ ad libitum, Op. 21 (1946); Biblical text
  • Choral Suite from Quo Vadis for mixed chorus and orchestra (1951)
  • Choral Suite from Ben-Hur for mixed chorus and orchestra (1959, 1960)
  • Choral Suite from King of Kings for mixed chorus and orchestra (1961)
  • 12 Short Choruses from Ben-Hur and King of Kings for mixed chorus (1961)
  • The Vanities of Life, Motet for mixed chorus, with organ ad libitum, Op. 30 (1967); Biblical text
  • The Lord Is My Shepherd, Psalm 23 for mixed chorus, with organ ad libitum, Op. 34 (1972); Biblical text
  • Three Chinese Poems for mixed chorus, Op. 35 (1975); translation by Arthur Waley
  1. Sailing Homeward
  2. Swallow, Swallow
  3. The Cuckoo


  • Miklós Rózsa: "Quo Vadis?" Film Music Notes, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1951)
  • Miklós Rózsa: Double Life: The Autobiography of Miklós Rózsa, Composer in the Golden Years of Hollywood, Seven Hills Books (1989) - ISBN 0-85936-209-4
  • Miklós Rózsa: Double Life: The Autobiography of Miklós Rózsa, Composer in the Golden Years of Hollywood, The Baton Press (1984) - ISBN 0-85936-141-1 (Softcover edition)
  • Miklós Rózsa: Életem történeteiből (Discussions with János Sebestyén, edited by György Lehotay-Horváth). Zeneműkiadó, Budapest (1980) - ISBN 963-330-354-0
  • Christopher Palmer: Miklós Rózsa. A Sketch Of His Life And Work. With a foreword by Eugene Ormandy. Breitkopf & Härtel, London, Wiesbaden (1975)
  • Miklós Rózsa and Miklós Rózsa on Film Music in Tony Thomas: Film Score. The Art & Craft of Movie Music, Riverwood Press (1991) - ISBN 1-880756-01-3, p. 18-32
  • Miklós Rózsa in William Darby und Jack Du Bois: American Film Music. Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915 - 1990. McFarland (1990) - ISBN 0-7864-0753-0 - p. 307-344
  • Miklós Rózsa in Christopher Palmer: The Composer In Hollywood. Marion Boyars (1993) - ISBN 0-7145-2950-8 - p. 186-233
  • From 1950 to the Present in Roy M. Prendergast: Film Music. A Neglected Art. A Critical Study of Music in Films. Second Edition. Norton (1992) - ISBN 0-393-30874-X - p. 98-179 (in this chapter, the author analyzes Rózsa's score from Quo Vadis (1951 film) (p. 126-130), on a few pages more, he also discusses Julius Caesar (1953 film) and King of Kings), a couple of other film works by Miklós Rózsa are merely mentioned)
  • Jeffrey Dane: "A Composer's Notes: Remembering Miklós Rózsa", iUniverse (2006) - ISBN 0-595-41433-8


External links

  • The Miklós Rózsa Society website
  • David Raksin Remembers His Colleagues: Miklós Rózsa
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Miklós Rózsa's Filmo/Discography at
  • Miklós Rózsa at
  • Centennial Tribute to Miklos Rózsa
  • Italian Website at Tribute Site
  • Vertlieb's Views: Miklos Rosza
  • Guide to The Miklós Rózsa Papers at Syracuse University
  • Article in french about Miklos Rosza

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