Miklós Rózsa

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Miklós Rózsa [ ˈmikloːʃ ˈroːʒɒ ] (born April 18, 1907 in Budapest , † July 27, 1995 in Los Angeles ) was a Hungarian - American composer who won several Oscar awards . He is considered one of the most important film composers and wrote, among other things, the music for the monumental film classics Ben Hur and El Cid . His catalog of works also includes orchestral and chamber music for the concert hall. Rózsa composed in a predominantly tonality- oriented, moderately modern style.

life and work

Miklós Rózsa was the son of a wealthy factory owner. He often spent his youth on the family estate in Nagylócz , where he began to be interested in the life and culture of the simple rural population. At the age of five he learned to play the violin with Lajos Berkovits , a student of the well-known violinist and composer Jenő Hubay .

Following the example of the avant-garde artists Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály , who were “notorious” in established Budapest music circles at the time , Rózsa already wrote down the folk songs of the rural population in the surrounding villages in his youth, to which he referred in later works such as the Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song, op 4 fall back. “I was never a systematic collector of folk songs ... I was only interested in the music that constantly surrounded me and made a great impression in terms of expression and rhythm. I just walked around with a little black music book and wrote down all the melodies. I didn't care about the text, ”Rózsa said decades later in an interview with film music expert Christopher Palmer . The special melodies and harmonies of Hungarian folk music also shaped the mature style of Rózsa.

Studied in Leipzig

In 1926 he began studying music at the Leipzig Conservatory, at the same time he studied chemistry at the university there at the urging of his father, which he gave up that same year. Rózsa's professor in composition was Hermann Grabner , a student of Max Reger . Its characteristic chromatic counterpoint should have a major influence on some of Rózsa's early works, see above. z. B. the quintet for piano and string quartet, op.2 .

Rózsa's first "official" work, the String Trio, op. 1 (1928, actually Trio Serenade ) was received with enthusiasm by Grabner. On his recommendation, the then Thomaskantor Karl Straube arranged the printing of the piece, as well as the piano quintet, with the Breitkopf & Härtel publishing house . B&H published the majority of Rózsa's concert works over the next fifty years. The first violin concerto , which was never published, also fell during this period .

In 1929 he finished his studies cum laude . At first he stayed in Leipzig and worked together with his former fellow student Wolfgang Fortner as Grabner's assistant. After a concert of his chamber music at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, however, he settled there in May 1932 as a freelance composer.

The years in Paris and London

His Paris years included works such as the theme, variations and finals, op.13 (1933, published by Eulenburg-Verlag ), the sonata for two violins, op.15 (1933, revised 1973) and the serenade for small orchestra , which was included in the 1946 edited version as op. 25 was published. During this time, Rózsa made friends with the Swiss composer Arthur Honegger , who also lived in Paris , and also gave a chamber concert with him in 1934. It was Honegger who gave the young Rózsa the idea of ​​supplementing his income with film music . With his score for the film Les Miserables , Honegger proved to him that one could write challenging orchestral music for the medium of film. In this new field of work, Rózsa initially hired himself as a "fanfare writer" for the newsreels of the Pathé organization, an artistically and financially extremely unsatisfactory job. This is probably one of the reasons why he used the pseudonym "Nic Tomay" for the commissioned work.

In 1935 Rózsa composed the ballet Hungaria as a commissioned work for the Markova-Dolin-Company , which ran for two years at the Duke of York's Theater in London. Since the number of jobs in the French film industry seemed limited, he moved entirely to London, where he wrote his first film music for Tatjana (1937) at the invitation of Jacques Feyder . For the independent studio of his compatriot Alexander Korda , further scores quickly followed, including Four Feathers and The Spy in Black (both 1939). When the work for the lavish fantasy spectacle The Thief of Baghdad (1940) was in jeopardy due to the air force bombing London, the shooting was relocated to Los Angeles in 1940, where Rózsa finally settled.

Hollywood career

In the following years, Rózsa quickly established himself as one of the leading film composers in Hollywood, whose work was rewarded with a total of three Academy Awards for the “best original composition” and ten other nominations. Rózsa won his Oscars for Ich kkampf um dich (1945), Ein Doppelleben / A Double Life (1948) and finally in 1959 for Ben-Hur , on which he worked for a year. Between 1937 and 1982 he wrote a total of nearly one hundred scores for full-length feature films. Rózsa's work in the film genres of crime films (e.g. the Film Noir's Avengers of the Underworld (1946), Die Nackte Stadt / The Naked City (1948), and John Huston's Asphalt Dschungel (1950)), melodrama ( Billy Wilder's alcoholic drama) became particularly well known The Lost Weekend (1945), The Red House (1947) and Schiff ohne Heimat / Plymouth Adventure , 1952) and of course the epics and historical adventure films Quo vadis? (1951), Ivanhoe - The Black Knight (1952), Julius Caesar (1953) , The Knights of the Round Table (1953), Ben-Hur (1959), King of Kings (1961) and finally El Cid from 1961.

Rózsa's often dissonant film compositions, trained in the harmony of the early 20th century and in the music of Bartók and Kodály, often brought him difficulties with the musical establishment of Hollywood studios, which favored a late romantic tonal language. In relation to his popular colleague Victor Young , Rózsa once referred to this style as “ Broadway- cum- Rachmaninoff ”. Despite the conflicts, Rózsa remained true to his own tonal language, which is why his film scores can always be identified within fewer bars than his works. A prominent element of several scores in the 1940s was Rózsa's use of the theremin , an electronic instrument similar in sound to the violin, in which the tones are generated by the player's movements along an invisible column of air. After Rózsa introduced the instrument to film music (in Hitchcock's Ich kkampf um dich (1945)), it was still used by a number of his colleagues, such as Bernard Herrmann (for The Day on which the Earth Stood Still , 1951) and Roy Webb ( The spiral staircase , 1945). He himself last used the instrument for The Lost Weekend and The Red House - and refused to use it for the Christ scenes in Ben-Hur , because he thought an organ would be more appropriate.

At the same time, Rózsa's succinct melodies and the dynamics of the music ensured that his scores have enjoyed great popularity for decades on record and later on compact disc, even outside of their original purpose, namely as independent sound carriers. With over 100 records, Miklós Rózsa is one of the best documented film composers in discography. His preference for musically capturing the moods of a film scene and the psychology behind it in its entirety, instead of illustrating each movement of an actor and each physical event individually with the so-called Mickey Mousing , have ensured that his music always detached from the film as independent musical experience can exist. However, this method also earned him the criticism of commentators who describe him as a “generalist” who was “too fine” to work out all the elements of each scene in minute detail.

On the recommendation of his agent, Rózsa, who had been free until then , signed a contract with the most prestigious Hollywood studio of the time, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Society in Burbank - but only with the assurance that he would spend three months each summer on his concert works (unpaid) leave - and that he would be allowed to continue his work as a professor of film composition at the University of Southern California . One of his students at USC was Jerry Goldsmith , whose interest in film music had been sparked by Rózsa's score for Spellbound / Spellbound . Rózsa later admitted that of all his students, Goldsmith was the only one who made it all the way to the top as a film composer. "Because there is one thing I couldn't teach the young people: How to get a job."

In 1962 his contract with MGM ran out. From the mid-1960s, traditional symphonic film scores were less and less in demand, and so Rózsa, as a freelance composer, concentrated more on his concert works, which he had never given up entirely during his film career. The two most important classical works, the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 22 (1950, which Rózsa composed while working on the opulent score for Quo Vadis - as an “antidote”, so to speak, as he later wrote , fall into his years at MGM ) and the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, op. 24 (1953, written for and premiered by Jascha Heifetz ). In the 1960s, three more great virtuoso concerts followed, one each for piano and cello and the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello and orchestra from 1966. With the viola concerto of 1979, the circle of Rózsa's concertante works comes full circle.

In 1982 Rózsa wrote his last film score for the Steve Martin comedy Tote Wear No Checks . This work is interesting insofar as the film is composed of snippets of classic crime films from the 1940s, some of which Rózsa had already set to music at the time. The private life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), in which Rózsa processed themes from his violin concerto at the request of director Billy Wilder, the score for Alain Resnais ' drama Providence (1977) and the nostalgic score , which received a César , still stand out from the later years of his film career Spy thriller The Needle (1981).

The last few years

A severe stroke in September 1982 that paralyzed Rózsa's left side of his body ended his career as a composer of film and orchestral music. In the 1980s he therefore only wrote a few pieces for solo instruments, including the Sonata for Solo Violin, op. 40 (1986). His last work was the short Introduction and Allegro for solo viola, op. 44, from 1988. Rózsa's last years of life were overshadowed by a serious illness. However, the German director Marcus Rosenmüller managed to interview him for the 1995 film music documentary The Sound of Pictures . Another (one-hour) documentary was shot by Jörg Bundschuh and Peter Glaser in 1990: Music by Miklós Rózsa - A Composer in Hollywood .

On July 27, 1995, Miklós Rózsa died of the long-term effects of his stroke. He was married to Margaret Finlason from 1943 until his death and had two children (Nicholas and Juliet).

Shortly before his stroke, he had laid down his life and work in an autobiography, which bears the relational title A Double Life . Rózsa confesses in it u. a., never to have been a particular friend of the film medium, which he primarily regarded as a "livelihood". Nevertheless, he emphasizes, like his colleagues, he always did his best for his employer and never denied his own style, even if in a simplified form for the medium. His concert works enjoyed great popularity at the time they were written and were performed by the leading conductors and interpreters of the day, including Bruno Walter , Eugene Ormandy , Charles Münch , Sir Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein . In the past decade and a half, interest in Rózsa's concertante works has grown again, which is reflected in numerous recordings.


The tonal language of Miklós Rózsa is dominated by two elements. One was shaped by his strict German academic training - his preference for contrapuntal composition and fugal forms, which was always clearly recognizable even in the film music. Although Rózsa, by his own admission, had no particular fondness for the music of Max Reger , his composition teacher Grabner, who was a pupil of Reger, had apparently familiarized him so intensely with his music that echoes of Reger's style, especially in the early works, hardly became apparent are denied.

It is therefore not surprising that Rózsa's most successful works include those that are set for a string ensemble (e.g. the String Quartet No. 1 ) or a string orchestra (Concerto for Strings, op. 17) - contrapuntal structures are particularly suitable for a pure string ensemble on.

The counterpoint unites with the second significant stylistic feature, Rózsa's melody, which, as explained above, goes back to Hungarian folk music. Rózsa rarely quotes actual folk songs, but his own melodies are unmistakably Hungarian. In this he follows his role models Bartók and Kodály , whereby Rózsa was never as harmonious as Bartók, but remained committed to the academic roots of his education right through to his last pieces. This “dichotomy” can always be found as an unsolved conflict in Rózsa's works.

In addition, influences from Richard Strauss , Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel can be recognized, but always “channeled” through Rózsa's own melodies.


Miklós Rózsa was a pioneer when it came to recording film scores on records for free sale. The suite from the music for The Jungle Book from 1942, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the young actor Sabu as narrator, was the first of its kind in the history of American film music. In the following decades Rózsa, in contrast to many of his colleagues, actively published his film works, mostly in the form of new recordings.

As part of this activity, Rózsa has often been in Germany since the 1950s. He had a special working relationship with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra , with whom he recorded suites from his Film Noirs and the biography Vincent van Gogh - A Life in Passion (1956, original Lust for Life ) at the end of the decade . In 1982 Rózsa's colleague Elmer Bernstein recorded an extensive retrospective there as a “birthday present” for him. In the same year, Rózsa himself wielded the baton for the last time, for a new recording of the thief of Baghdad , also in Nuremberg. His suite for Das Dschungelbuch was recorded in 1981 with Elmar Gunsch as narrator with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Klauspeter Seibel.

Rózsa’s most important discographic contribution to film music, however, must be considered to be the recordings he made in the 1970s for the Polydor label in London with the Royal Philharmonic under the signature “Rózsa Conducts Rózsa”. This series of records illustrated Rózsa's film career in an outstanding way. Unfortunately, the tapes of these productions are considered lost, which is why they could not appear on CD.

Almost all of Rózsa's 44 concert works with opus numbers have now been recorded in full and in some cases several times. Outstanding among them are certainly the recordings of the violin concerto: 1956 with the dedicatee Jascha Heifetz , 1995 by Igor Gruppman , 2003 with the American Robert McDuffie for Telarc and most recently in 2007 by Anastasia Khitruk for Naxos and in 2009 by Matthew Trusler with the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker (Orchid Classics) . János Starker and Leonard Pennario also recorded the concertos for cello and piano written for them on sound carriers. More recently, Lynn Harrell , Danielle Laval and Evelyn Chen (piano) and Brinton Smith, Raphael Wallfisch, Peter Rejto (cello). The viola concerto has also been recorded several times (Lawrence Power, Paul Silverthorne, Gilad Karni, Maria Newman), as well as the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and cello and the concerto for string orchestra. In the mid-nineties, the Koch International label under the conductor James Sedares in New Zealand digitally recorded almost all of Rózsa's preserved orchestral works. Most of the choral and chamber music is also available on sound carriers.

In 2008, the independent British label Chandos Records started recording Rózsa's orchestral works. The recordings are made in Manchester with the BBC Philharmonic under the direction of Rumon Gamba . So far (as of January 2016) there are three CDs.


Awards for his film scores

  • 1941: Oscar nomination for The Thief of Baghdad
  • 1942: Oscar nomination for A Woman's Heart Never Forgets
  • 1942: Oscar nomination for arms smugglers from Kenya
  • 1943: Oscar nomination for The Jungle Book
  • 1945: Oscar nomination for A Woman for the Marshal
  • 1945: Oscar nomination for Woman Without a Conscience
  • 1946: Oscar nomination for The Lost Weekend
  • 1946: Oscar nomination for polonaise
  • 1946: Oscar for I fight for you
  • 1947: Oscar nomination for Avengers of the Underworld
  • 1948: Oscar for a double life
  • 1952: Oscar nomination for Quo vadis?
  • 1953: Golden Globe nomination for Ivanhoe - The Black Knight
  • 1953: Oscar nomination for Ivanhoe - The Black Knight
  • 1954: Oscar nomination for Julius Caesar
  • 1960: Oscar for Ben Hur
  • 1961: Golden Globe nomination for El Cid
  • 1961: Golden Globe nomination for King of Kings
  • 1962: Oscar nomination (Best Score and Best Song) for El Cid
  • 1976: Golden Scroll for his impressive film scores from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA
  • 1987: Lifetime Achievement Award from the ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards
  • 1989: Lifetime Achievement Award from the London Critics Circle Film Awards

Concert works (selection)

  • 1927: Serenade, op. 1 (trio for violin, viola and cello)
  • 1928: Quintet for piano and string quartet, op.2
  • 1933: Theme, Variations and Finale for Orchestra, op.13
  • 1938: Three Hungarian sketches, for orchestra, op.14
  • 1943: Concerto for string orchestra, op.17
  • 1950: String Quartet No. 1 , op.22
  • 1952: The Vintner's Daughter - Variations on a French Folk Song, op.23 (23a for orchestra)
  • 1953: Concerto for violin and orchestra, op. 24 ("for Jascha Heifetz ")
  • 1966: Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello and orchestra, op.29
  • 1967: Concerto for piano and orchestra, op.31
  • 1968: Concerto for violoncello and orchestra, op. 32 ("for János Starker ")
  • 1972: Tripartita for orchestra, op.34
  • 1979: Concerto for viola and orchestra, op.37
  • 1981: String Quartet No. 2, op.38
  • 1986: Sonata for violin (solo), op.40

Fonts (selection)

  • “Quo Vadis?” Film Music Notes, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1951).
  • Double life. The Autobiography of Miklos Rozsa, Composer in the Golden Years of Hollywood. Seven Hills Books 1982/1989, ISBN 0-85936-209-4 .


  • Christopher Palmer: Miklós Rózsa. A Sketch of his Life and Work. With a foreword by Eugene Ormandy . Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden 1975 ISBN 3-7651-0084-6
  • Jeffrey Dane: Remembering Miklós Rózsa. A personal recollection. With a foreword by Leonard Pennario . iUniverse, New York 2006, ISBN 0-595-41433-8
  • Miklós Rózsa on film music. and The Film Music by Miklós Rózsa. In: Tony Thomas : Film music. The great film composers. Your art and your technique. Heyne, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-453-09007-1 , pp. 29-45. (from the English Film Score )
  • Miklos Rozsa . In: William Darby, Jack Du Bois: American Film Music. Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915-1990. McFarland, Jefferson 1990, ISBN 0-7864-0753-0 , pp. 307-344 (English)
  • Miklós Rózsa . In: Christopher Palmer: The Composer In Hollywood. Marion Boyars, London 1993, ISBN 0-7145-2950-8 , pp. 186-233 (English)
  • From 1950 to the Present. In: Roy M. Prendergast: Film Music. A Neglected Art. A Critical Study of Music in Films. Second edition. Norton, New York 1992, ISBN 0-393-30874-X , pp. 98-179 (English)
  • Josef Kloppenburg: The dramaturgical function of music in Alfred Hitchcock's films. Wilhelm Fink, Munich 1986 ISBN 3-7705-2363-6
  • Annette Richter: A Tale of the Composer: Miklós Rózsa on his 100th birthday, In: Cinema Musica , H. 8, 2007, pp. 20–29. ISSN  1861-5309
  • Hansjörg Wagner: Miklós Rózsa. His life and work. In: Filmmusic Info. Music and Film Working Group. H. 3, 1981, pp. 24-53
  • Hansjörg Wagner: Rózsa In: Filmmusik. H. 11, July 1984, pp. 8-21
  • Roger Hickman: Miklós Rózsa's “Ben-Hur”: A Film Score Guide. Scarecrow, Lanham 2011, ISBN 978-0-8108-8100-6
  • Ralph Erkelenz: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Score . The Miklós Rózsa Society 2010
  • John Fitzpatrick (Ed.): Pro Musica Sana. The Official Journal of The Miklós Rózsa Society. New York 1972
  • Juliane Bally: Miklós Rózsa. Training and early chamber music work as the basis for film music creation using the example of Ben Hur . Pfau Verlag, Saarbrücken 2012, ISBN 978-3-89727-488-4
  • Joseph Brausam: Miklós Rózsa's El Cid (1961) . In: TCNJ Journal of Student Scholarship , Vol. XII 2010
  • Steve Vertlieb: A double life: the life and work of Miklós Rózsa . In: Cinema Musica , H. 36, 2014, p. 32 ff. ISSN  1861-5309

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Christopher Palmer: Miklós Rózsa. A Sketch Of His Life And Work . With a foreword by Eugene Ormandy. Breitkopf & Härtel, London, Wiesbaden (1975)
  2. 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 . Another section in this work exemplifies the conflict:

    “One of the things I quickly learned about the music in Hollywood films [early 1940's] was that there was no such thing as style. So I have to rate my work for Double Indemnity ( Woman Without a Conscience , 1944) as a breakthrough, at least for myself. Many of the musicians who found work in Hollywood in the early days of the talkies were previously Broadway and silent film music conductors, songwriters or have been pianists in American entertainment theaters. 'Outstanding' [= incompetent] composers with an army of hard-working, unnamed helpers made up of arrangers and orchestrators . The established tonal language was very conservative, a kind of extremely watered-down Rachmaninoff mixed with Broadway elements. In the music for Double Indemnity I built dissonant harmonies and irregular rhythms that would hardly have been more than a shrug in the world of serious music, but which caused confusion in some Hollywood music circles. In any case, the musical director of Paramount made no secret of the fact that he found my music unbearable. Do I really have to have a G sharp in the second violin, since it would clash with the pure G of the violas playing an octave below? Couldn't I change it for his sake? He believed that such 'exaggeration' belonged in Carnegie Hall , not in a film studio. I refused to change a note and thanked you for the compliment. He assured me that it wasn't and predicted that the entire score would be removed from the film at the latest after the preview . "

    Not only did the music stay in the movie, it also received an Oscar nomination.

  3. ↑ to read u. a. in William Darby, Jack Du Bois: American Film Music: Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915–1990 . Jefferson NC / London 1990, pp. 307-344
  4. ^ Rózsa: Double Life .
  5. a b ibid.
  6. see also Christopher Plamer, text supplement to Miklós Rózsa, The String Quartets with the Pro Arte Quartet on Laurel Records, 1988, p. 3
  7. ^ Polonaise: Awards. In: Zelluloid.de. Archived from the original on January 2, 2017 ; accessed on September 11, 2018 .
  8. Informative text on life and work, illustrated with photos and numerous Sheet music samples. The detailed filmography includes Rózsa's films as main composer, as co- or sub-composer or as other collaborator
  9. ^ Knowledgeable text about Rózsa's life and work in Hollywood
  10. In this chapter, in addition to historical aspects of film music, Prendergast also deals with musicological considerations, Rózsa's film music pioneering work in Quo Vadis? The author examines ( Quo vadis? (1951) ) as an example on pp. 126–130; there are also some pp. On Rózsa's film music for Julius Caesar (1953) and King Of Kings (1961 ). Other works by Rózsa are mentioned in passing
  11. The core of the investigation is the exemplary analysis of the soundtrack for Spellbound .
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on August 10, 2007 .