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Max Steiner

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Max Steiner

Max Steiner
Steiner composing
Born Maximilian Raoul Steiner
(1888-05-10)May 10, 1888
Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now Austria)
Died December 28, 1971(1971-12-28) (aged 83)
Hollywood, California, USA
Nationality American (naturalized citizen 1920)
Occupation composer, arranger, conductor
Years active 1904–1965
Spouse(s) Beatrice (1912-?);
Aubrey (1927–1933);
Louise Klos (1936–?; divorced; 1 child);
Leonette "Lee" (1947-1971)(1899-1981)

Maximilian Raoul "Max" Steiner (May 10, 1888 – December 28, 1971) was an Austrian-born American composer of music for theatre and films. 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.

He worked in England, then Broadway, and moved to Hollywood in 1929 where he became one of the first composers to write music scores for films. Steiner is referred to as "the father of film music"[1] and is considered one of the greatest film score composers in the history of cinema.[2] Along with such composers as Dimitri Tiomkin, Franz Waxman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman and Miklós Rózsa, Steiner played a major part in creating the tradition of writing music for films.

Steiner composed over 300 film scores with RKO and Warner Brothers, 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), Casablanca (1942), and the film score for which he is possibly best known, Gone with the Wind (1939).

He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, which he won for his score to 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 1
  • Beginning music career 2
  • Broadway music (1914–1929) 3
  • Hollywood film music (1929–1971) 4
    • Symphony of Six Million (1932) 4.1
    • King Kong (1933) 4.2
    • The Informer (1935) 4.3
    • Composing for Warner Brothers 4.4
    • Gone with the Wind (1939) 4.5
    • Now Voyager (1942) 4.6
    • Westerns 4.7
  • Methods of composing 5
    • Character themes 5.1
    • Scene and situation themes 5.2
  • Death 6
  • Awards and honors 7
  • AFI 8
  • Additional filmography 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11
    • Multimedia links 11.1

Early years

Max Steiner's birthplace in Vienna today, Praterstraße 72

Steiner was born on May 10, 1888, in Austria-Hungary, the only child of a wealthy business and theatrical family of Jewish heritage.[3][4][5] He was named after his paternal grandfather, Maximilian Steiner (1830–1880), credited with first persuading Johann Strauss, Jr. to write for the theater. He was also the influential manager of Vienna's historic Theater an der Wien, recognized for staging celebrated works of theatre, opera and symphony since 1801.[6]

His father was Gabor Steiner (1858–1944), Viennese impresario, carnival exposition manager, and inventor, responsible for building the giant Ferris wheel in the Prater, known as the Wiener Riesenrad. Steiner's mother was a dancer in stage productions put on by his grandfather.[7] His godfather was the composer Richard Strauss.[8]

His parents sent Steiner to the

  • "Max Steiner – Father of Film Music" on YouTube, film documentary trailer
  • "Max Steiner – Greatest Hits" on YouTube, compilation by Beny Debny
  • (1932)Symphony of Six MillionScore to on YouTube
  • (1933)King KongScore to on YouTube
  • (1935)The InformerScore to on YouTube (Academy Award)
  • (1936)The Garden of AllahScore to on YouTube
  • (1937)The Life of Émile ZolaScore to on YouTube
  • (1939)Gone With the WindScore to on YouTube
  • "Gone With the Wind" theme to Ice Dancing on YouTube
  • (1940)All This and Heaven TooScore to on YouTube
  • (1940)Adventures of Tom SawyerScore to on YouTube
  • (1940)City for ConquestScore to on YouTube
  • (1942)CassablancaScore to on YouTube
  • (1942)Now VoyagerScore to on YouTube (Academy Award)
  • (1942)They Died with Their Boots OnScore to on YouTube
  • (1944)Since You Went AwayScore to on YouTube (Academy Award)
  • (1945)Mildred PierceScore to on YouTube
  • (1946)The Big SleepScore to on YouTube
  • (1948)Johnny Belinda"Score to on YouTube
  • (1948)Key LargoScore to on YouTube
  • (1948)Treasure of the Sierra MadreScore to on YouTube
  • (1949)The Lady Takes a SailorScore to on YouTube
  • (1951)Operation PacificScore to on YouTube
  • (1955)The Last CommandScore to on YouTube
  • (1956)The SearchersScore to on YouTube
  • (1956)Helen of TroyScore to on YouTube
  • (1957)Band of AngelsScore to on YouTube
  • (1959)A Summer PlaceTheme from on YouTube A Summer PlaceSelections from on YouTube

Multimedia links

External links

  1. ^ "Max Steiner – Father of Film Music" on YouTube, trailer to documentary film
  2. ^ a b c d e Eder, Bruce. "Max Steiner: Artist Biography" Barnes & Noble
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Palmer, Christopher. The Composer in Hollywood, “Max Steiner: Birth of an Era”, Marion Boyars Publishers (1990) pp. 15–50
  4. ^ Neale, Steve, ed. Classical Hollywood Reader, Routledge (2012) p. 235
  5. ^ Volkov, Shulamit. Germans, Jews, and Antisemites: Trials of Emancipation, Cambridge Univ. Press (2006) p. 42
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Thomas, Tony. Max Steiner: Vienna, London, New York, and Finally Hollywood, Max Steiner Collection, Brigham Young University 1996
  7. ^ a b c MacDonald, Laurence E. The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History, Ardsley House (1998) p. 26
  8. ^ Hollywood in Vienna
  9. ^ Brook, Vincent. Driven to Darkness: Jewish Emigre Directors and the Rise of Film Noir, Rutgers Univ. Press (2009) p. 215
  10. ^ a b c Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick’s Hollywood, Knopf Publishers (1980)
  11. ^ a b c d e Cooke, Mervyn. The Hollywood Film Music Reader, Oxford Univ. Press (2010) pp. 55–68
  12. ^ Story, Richard David. New York Magazine, Sept. 23, 1991 (quoting composer Charles Strouse)
  13. ^ The film scores of Max Steiner
  14. ^ Bartel, Pauline. The Complete “Gone with the Wind” Trivia Book, Rowman & Littlefield (1989) p. 92
  15. ^ Gottlie, Jack. Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish, S.U.N.Y. Press (2004) p. 47
  16. ^ a b Selznick, David O., Behlmer, Rudy, ed. Memo from David O. Selznick, Viking Press (1972)
  17. ^ “10 Reasons Why Gone with the Wind is Still Awesome”
  18. ^ Soundtrack details –
  19. ^ a b Kalinak, Kathryn. Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film, Univ of Wisconsin Press. (1992) pp. 113–121
  20. ^
  21. ^


Additional filmography

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:


Plaque for Steiner at his birthplace in Praterstraße 72, Vienna

Awards and honors

Steiner died of congestive heart failure in Hollywood, aged 83.[20] He is entombed in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[21]


  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948): “After discovering gold, Bogart and Holt toil under a brutal sun for hours on end to dig a mine. The music intensifies their anguish, . . . . here it assumes the character of a fiercely protesting funeral march. The mine caves in with Bogart inside it, and for the time being the music caves in with it. . . . Here the music, insistently reiterating the ‘greed’ motif, tells us the nature of the thoughts flashing through Holt’s mind as he stands outside the ruined mine. But then the warm main theme surges up, telling us that the finer side of his nature has prevailed. He fights his way through the dust and rubble and brings Bogart out alive, and the climax is marked by a grandioso statement of the theme on full orchestra.”[3]
  • The Big Sleep (1946): “As the shadows lengthen and the atmosphere becomes murkier and more claustrophobic, the mood of the music darkens to match. . . . Bogart’s feelings for Bacall (high strings) is pitted rhythmically against the electric savagery of the underworld (low strings and brass). This is fine scoring; and Steiner is writing here an authentic music of the asphalt jungle.”[3]
  • The Letter (1940), starring Bette Davis: “Steiner’s score is one of the most insidiously potent. The main theme, blasting the credits fortissimo across the theater, sets the atmosphere of tropical tension and violence. It underlines Davis’s wild, passionate temperament, but also tells us that hers is a tragic passion, not a vicious one.”[3]
  • King Kong (1933): “Here the music is required, perhaps for the first time in an American film, to explain to the audience what is actually happening on the screen, since the camera is unable to articulate Kong’s instinctive feelings of tenderness towards his helpless victim. In these last moments the music becomes almost operatic in character . . . . King Kong is a landmark; it showed the basic power of music to terrorize and to humanize.”[3]

In the same way that Steiner created a theme for each character in a film, Palmer shows how Steiner's music developed themes to express emotional aspects of general scenes, where the emotional content would have been missing without music. He gives a few examples:

Scene and situation themes

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.”[3]

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):

  • 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."[3]
  • 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."[3]
  • 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.”[3]

Bette Davis's claim that "Max understood more about drama than any of us," is best exemplified by his score for The Glass Menagerie (1950), according to Palmer, who gives some examples of how the characters and the music worked together:

“As so often, with a few well-chosen brush strokes, Steiner creates a musical picture that tells us all we need to know about the character,” writes Palmer. Among the ways Steiner accomplished this, says music historian Kathryn Kalinak, was with “a high degree of direct synchronization between music and narrative action and the use of leitmotif," a constantly recurring musical phrase, as a structural framework.[19]

One of the important principles that guided Steiner whenever possible was his rule: Every character should have a theme.[19]

Character themes

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.[6]

Steiner felt that knowing when to start and stop is the hardest part of proper scoring, as 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."[6] He also notes that many composers, contrary to his own technique, would fail to subordinate the music to the film:

It was also a challenge of the first magnitude, for it offered musicians the opportunity to develop what was in effect a completely new and untried medium. . . . Somehow it happened; and in the work of Max Steiner—the father of them all—is contained a fair cross-section of the best and worst of Hollywood music. . . . One of Steiner’s most positive assets is his ability to crystallize the essence of a film in a single theme.[3]

Palmer explains that scores from the classics were sometimes harmful to a picture, especially when they drew “unwanted attention to themselves by virtue of their familiarity, and gives examples of films like 2001 – A Space Odyssey, The Sting and Manhattan, whose scores were easily recognized instead of having a preferred "subliminal" effect. Steiner, among the first to acknowledge “the need for an original, specially conceived dramatic musical support for each picture,” states Palmer led to this “major breakthrough” in movie production. He writes:

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.[11]

Steiner also explains his own reasoning why he went against Selznick’s instruction to use classic music for Gone With the Wind:

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.[11]

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, as the score would often be ruined. As recording technology improved during this period, he was then 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:

Steiner explains that in the early days of sound, producers avoided underscoring of music behind dialog, 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 night club, ballroom or theater, the orchestra fit in more naturally and was used often.[11]

Methods of composing

In 1963, Steiner began writing his autobiography, which, although completed, was never published, and is the source of a few biographical errors concerning this composer. A copy of the manuscript resides with the rest of the Max Steiner Collection at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

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.[18] There are also acetates of Steiner conducting the Warner Brothers studio orchestra in music from some of his film scores.

Steiner reunited with director John Ford in 1956 to score The Searchers, widely considered the greatest Western ever made. He returned to Warner-Bros in 1958 (although his contract ended in 1953) and scored several films, in addition a rare venture into television.[5] He continued to score films produced by Warner until the mid sixties.[6]

Combining both Westerns and romance, Thomas asserts that for They Died with Their Boots On (1941), also starring Flynn and de Havilland, “Steiner’s love theme for the two is exquisite, perhaps his love theme par excellence . . .[6]

Steiner bursts into an expansive, lilting, loping melody that bespeaks the glorious visual of the wagons and the horses and the cattle making their way across a handsome landscape. Throughout the whole film, whatever the drama or the comedy, the music picks up the picture and carries it.[6]

In The Adventures of Mark Twain, and Westerns like Dodge City (1939) and The Oklahoma Kid (1939). Palmer notes that “their sense of grandeur may be romantic-European rather than authentic-American, but it is genuine nonetheless.”[3] Even when he was in his seventies, ailing and near blind, he adds that Steiner’s compositions “revealed a freshness and fertility of invention,” which was “astonishing.”[3] He would eventually write the scores for over twenty large-scale Westerns, most with epic-inspiring scores “about empire building and progress.”[6] Thomas feels that Dodge City, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, is a good example of Steiner’s handling of typical scenes of the Western genre:


The main titles and their music are wedded to some splendid panoramic shots of the valley . . . this theme [with a musical quote from "America the Beautiful"] in its main-title setting reflects both the tranquility and beauty of lake, wood and mountain, and the peaceful temper of life in this uncorrupted area.[3]

He lists and describes some films whose music expresses the “beauties of the American landscape:” This is Cinerama (1952), with its natural settings such as the Grand Canyon, “Steiner’s music helps burn the moment into the memory;” the theme to Spencer's Mountain (1963), which Steiner composed when he was 75-years of age, “is imbued with that sense of childlike wonder which is the trademark of a perennially youthful creative imagination.” Palmer describes the effect of the score:

Steiner’s warm and spontaneous melodic gift and the naturally unsophisticated character of his musical personality lent themselves without any sense of strain to films dealing with the lyric and the homespun, tales of simple people in rural American settings.[3]

Palmer, however, feels that the “best Steiner is to be heard in those films whose tenor is light-years removed from the synthetic glamour and hyper-sophistication of the Now Voyager genre”, and explains why:

Steiner received his next Oscar nomination for the 1940 film, The Letter, his first of several collaborations with legendary director William Wyler. A further nomination followed the next year for Sergeant York, and was also nominated for Casablanca (1942), which remains one of his most famous scores. He also composed two more Humphrey Bogart films besides Casablanca, which is considered among Bogart’s best: The Big Sleep (1946) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).[6] In 1942, Steiner won his second Oscar for Now, Voyager (1942), one of his favorite scores,[6] and received his third and final Oscar in 1944 with Since You Went Away (1944), set during World War II.

Now Voyager (1942)

Important musicians are finally coming to recognize their importance; and more and more, really fine musicians are recognizing that scoring is a new form of musical art. . . . I believe that it is high time that someone gave encouragement to the training of musicians for the express purpose of scoring.[16]:308

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. In a letter he wrote a year later to the director of the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, Selznick now emphasizes the value of original film scores:

Nevertheless, Steiner ignored his wishes and composed an entirely new score. The film went on to win 10 Academy Awards, although not for the best original score, which instead went to Herbert Stothart for the musical The Wizard of Oz. The film’s theme song, however, "Tara’s Theme," is currently one of the “most easily recognizable motifs in the history of film music.”[17] The score is ranked #2 by AFI as the second greatest American film score of all time. As a result, music and film historian Christopher Palmer claims it has "almost become a part of Americana."[3]

I am increasingly depressed by the prospect that we are not going to use the great classical music of the world for our score, . . . . I should like you to use, instead of two or three hours of original music, little original music . . .[16] :227

Selznick had asked Steiner only to use pre-existing classical music to help cut down on cost and time.[14] 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.[15] In a letter to Steiner, Selznick expressed his opinion:

In 1939, Steiner was borrowed from Warner Bros. by Selznick to compose the score for his next film, Gone with the Wind (1939), which became one of Steiner's most notable successes. Steiner was the only composer Selznick would consider for scoring the film, states Thomas. Despite 1939 being Steiner’s peak year for the number of scores he composed—twelve films in all—he was given only three months to do it. When the film was released, it was the longest film score ever composed, at nearly three hours. The composition consisted of 16 main themes and almost 300 musical segments.[6] To meet the deadline, Steiner sometimes worked for 20-hours straight, taking Benzedrine pills to stay awake.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Steiner became a mainstay at Warner Bros., scoring 140 of their films over the next 30 years. He remained with Warners longer than any of his contemporaries.[2] There are numerous soundtrack recordings of Steiner’s music, both as soundtracks, collections, and recordings by others.[13] As late as 1959, for A Summer Place, 71-year-old Steiner composed a theme which became one of Warner Brothers’ biggest hit-tunes for years and a re-recorded pop standard.

That meant that, as movies were supposed to have better music than they did in the early thirties, Warner Bros. movies would have the best music. Steiner made it all possible—in fact, Steiner was one of the creative forces that made Warner Bros. fully competitive with better-heeled rivals such as M-G-M and 20th Century-Fox. M-G-M, in particular, may have had more working capital overall, and an awesome array of stars, . . . . but Warner Bros. had the good sense to hire Steiner, along with his fellow Viennese Erich Wolfgang Korngold. They made Warner Bros.' film scores sound as finely wrought and well constructed as M-G-M's best movies looked. By the middle-late 1930's, every studio wanted its own Max Steiner.[2]

According to Eder, Warner Bros. made a special effort to have better music than the other studios. Jack Warner along with the other studio heads liked Steiner's scores and wanted to give their audiences "full value for their box office dollar." Eder writes:

In April 1937, Steiner left RKO and signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros., but could continue to work for Selznick. The first of 140 films he would score for Warners was The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). The film starred Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and over the coming years, Steiner would score fourteen more of Flynn’s pictures. Steiner also scored most of Bette Davis’s romantic dramas, eighteen in all. "When Bette Davis walked into a room, they wanted audiences to know that Bette Davis had walked into a room," writes composer Charles Strouse.[12] Davis would later claim that "Max understood more about drama than any of us."[6]

Composing for Warner Brothers

Producer David O. Selznick had set up his own production company in 1936 and “the only composer he wanted was Steiner,” notes Thomas. Steiner wrote the scores for Selznick's next three films.

Having now witnessed the value of music to films, Ford again hired Steiner to compose for his next film, ‘’ The Informer (1935), this time before he actually began production. Ford even asked his screenwriter to meet with Steiner during the writing phase. Ford’s preparation paid off, as the film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won four, including Steiner's first.

The Informer (1935)

RKO producers, including Selznick, often came to him when they had problems with films, treating him as if he were a “doctor,” notes Thomas. Steiner was asked to compose a needed score for Of Human Bondage (1934), which originally lacked music. He took that on, including adding musical touches to significant scenes, one of which conductor Leopold Stokowski called “a stroke of genius.” Director John Ford then called on him to score his film, “ The Lost Patrol (1934), which all the heads of RKO felt lacked enough “tension.” Steiner's composition was nominated for an Academy Award.

The film quickly made Steiner one of the most respected names in Hollywood. He continued on as RKOs music director for two more years, until 1936, during which time he composed, arranged and conducted another 55 films, from dramas to musicals. Among those were most of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance musicals. He wrote a sonata used in Katharine Hepburn’s first film, Bill of Divorcement (1932).

There had never been a score so ambitious and so perfectly attuned to the visuals; Steiner’s music for King Kong was and is a landmark of film scoring, as much responsible for the success of the film as Cooper’s imagination and O’Brien’s gifted animation.[10]:113

Haver agrees, stating that “music like this had never been heard in a film before.” He adds:

It was worth every penny because it was his score that literally makes that film work. As soon as the audience hears that three-note theme—those three massive, darkly orchestrated descending chords—it knows it is in for a fantastic experience.[6]

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. Steiner recalls, "they didn't want to waste any more money on it and told me to use old tracks."[6] Subsequently, King Kong producer Merian C. Cooper "came to me and asked me to score it to the best of my ability and that he would pay the cost of the orchestra." Steiner took advantage of this offer and used an eighty-piece orchestra, explaining: "It 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."[6] Thomas concludes it was a valuable improvement:

The score for King Kong (1933) became Steiner's breakthrough and brought his name to everyone’s attention. Actor and musician Oscar Levant later called the film "a symphony accompanied by a movie," and an expression of Steiner's mastery of "illuminating action with sound."[2] According to music critic and writer Bruce Eder, many critics at the time attributed a quarter of the film's success to the music.[2]

King Kong (1933)

According to Thomas, “It was Steiner more than any other composer who pioneered the use of original composition as background scoring for films.”[6] From then on, a third to half of the success of most films was “attributed to the extensive use of music.”[11]

Music until then had not been used very much for underscoring—the producers were afraid the audience would ask ‘Where’s the music coming from?’ Unless they saw an orchestra or a radio or phonograph. But with this picture we proved scoring would work.[6]

The film became a career turning point, notes Thomas: “The real start of Steiner the film composer was Symphony of Six Million."[6] Steiner explains the film’s significance to the film industry:

In 1932 Steiner was asked by a new producer at RKO, David O. Selznick, to try to improve a film he had just completed, but was still not satisfied with, Symphony of Six Million (1932). Selznick asked him, "Do you think you could put some music behind this thing? I think it might help it. Just do one reel."[6] Steiner composed a short segment which Selznick liked so much, he asked him to compose the theme and underscoring for the entire picture.[11] According to Haver, Selznick was more than satisfied with the film, feeling that it gave a realistic view of Jewish family life and tradition, and was "on his list of pictures he was proudest of."[10]:75

To underline the exotic, languorous feeling of the visual, he wrote original material, weaving it in and out of his own arrangements of traditional Hawaiian melodies. His use of the vibraphone, marimbas, ukeleles, and the steel guitar created an ambience of the South Seas that was so popular it would soon become a cliché.[10]:79

By the end of 1930, however, Hollywood studios, including RKO, cut back dramatically on producing musicals, which they had continually released during the 1920s. Steiner’s next film was a Western, Cimarron (1931), the first film for which he wrote an original composition.[6] He then worked on Bird of Paradise, putting to music almost the entire 85-minute film. Film historian Ronald Haver emphasizes the value of the music to the film:

Steiner accepted their offer and moved to California in 1929. Soon after arriving, he orchestrated the film version of the musical Rio Rita and another musical, Dixiana (1930), for which he received his first screen credit as an orchestrator. Later that year LeBaron made him director of RKO's new music production department.[6][7]

Symphony of Six Million (1932)

Hollywood film music (1929–1971)

During this period, when orchestrating and conducting Harry Tierney's Rio Rita in 1927, 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 "greatly impressed," writes biographer Tony Thomas. Steiner's thirty-five musicians each played several instruments, making his "elaborate orchestration sound even richer," adds Thomas. "Obviously, here was a man Hollywood could use."[6]

Steiner soon acquired employment and worked in New York for the next fifteen years as a Lady, Be Good (1924), and Rosalie (1928). His final production on Broadway was in 1929, Sons O' Guns.[6]

Broadway music (1914–1929)

During his years in England Steiner wrote and conducted both theater productions and symphonies. But in 1914 World War I started and he was interned as an enemy alien.[9] Fortunately, he was befriended by the Duke of Westminster who was a fan of his, 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.[6]

I conducted the opening night, and the production ended up running for a year. Out of that came offers to conduct other shows, a couple of which took me to Moscow and Hamburg. In 1906 I accepted an offer from the British impresario The Merry Widow, and that was the start of eight years in England for me. I conducted all kinds of musicals at Daly's Theatre, the Adelphi, the Hippodrome, the London Pavilion and the Blackpool Winter Garden.[6]

Steiner first entered the world of professional music when he was fifteen, writing and conducting the operetta, ''The Beautiful Greek Girl. He recalls how this first opera led to other shows in other countries, which eventually took him to London:

Beginning music career

He produced Offenbach and Gilbert and Sullivan and all the others. When I was twelve he let me conduct an American operetta, The Belle of New York, by Gustave Kerker. Kerker happened to be in Vienna at the time and he asked my parents if he could take me back to America with him as a Boy Wonder.[6]

Steiner credits his family for inspiring his early musical abilities, and writes of his father: [6] For his early achievement he was awarded a gold medal by the academy.[7]

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