Max Steiner

February 13, 2008

maxsteiner.jpgMAX STEINER (1888-1971)


Maximillian Raoul Walter Steiner was born in Vienna on May 10th 1888. Max was the grandson of the musical impresario who discovered Strauss and brought Offenbach to Vienna. With such a rich musical and operatic home life, it is no wonder that Steiner developed into a music prodigy. His father, also a theatrical producer, had Brahms, someone he had promoted and befriended, give Max piano lessons. At 13 he had already completed and graduated from the Imperial Academy of Music, winning the Gold Medal of the Emperor. By the time he was 16 he was already conducting, composing, and continuing his studies under Gustav Mahler. In 1905 he left Austria for England, taking a position as conductor of His Majesty’s Theatre, a post he held until 1914. With the help of the Duke of Westminister in 1915, Max found his way to New York and began working on musicals and operettas. He also began to compose and conduct screenings for silent films. On one such film “The Bondman” he became friends with the producer William Fox, which eventually became his ticket to go west to Hollywood in 1929. His first employment was as an orchestrator for the 1929 Ziegfield “Rio Rita.”

It was at RKO pictures that Max developed his style of writing scores for films. Adapting the concept created by Richard Wagner, Max wrote music that became a dramatic content of the film, not just a background filler. His films “Symphony of Six Million”, “King Kong”, and “The Informer” were examples of the leitmotif style of music he became so very famous for. While his critics referred to this style of music as “Mickey Mousing” the producers and directors loved his music. They could count on the fact that Steiner would make a good film better and great film superb. Shortly after being let go by RKO he was hired by David O. Selznick to begin work on the classic “Gone With The Wind.” From there he was hired by Warner Bros. where he remained for the majority of his working days. One of his first assignments was a film “Tovarich” part of which became the famous Warner Bros. fanfare introduction to their films.

Max in his career produced scores for over 250 films! He recieved 26 nominations from the Academy and took home three Oscars. His Oscar winning scores were “The Informer”, “Now, Voyager”, and “Since You Went Away.” Other nominated films included “The Lost Patrol”, “The Life of Emil Zola”, “Gone With The Wind”, “Casablanca”, “Caine Mutiny”, and “Battle Cry.” Curiously omitted from any consideration were such classics as “King Kong”, “They Died With Their Boots On”, and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” “King Kong” is considered by many to have set the standard as to how film scores were to be written for many years to come.

After many years of suffering from cancer and failing eyesight Max Steiner passed away in Hollywood on December 28th 1971. To many of us Max will always be known as “The Father of Film Music”. He composed dynamic orchestrated scores with wonderful melodies that enhanced what we saw on the screen.

Quotation of note: “If Wagner had lived in this century he would have been the number one film composer”.


One Response to “Max Steiner”

  1. Wood Shelf Says:

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