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Miklos Rozsa

Miklos Rozsa

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Also Known As: Miklos Rosza Died: July 27, 1995
Born: April 18, 1907 Cause of Death: pneumonia
Birth Place: Budapest, HU Profession: Music ... composer
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BIOGRAPHY

Hungarian-born composer Miklos Rosza's exquisite string arrangements, powerful use of percussion and unconventional approach to composition would revolutionize the film score, raising the field to greater dramatic and evocative heights. A born musician, Rozsa began studying the violin at age five and became steeped in the folk music of his native land, an influence that could be detected in much of his later work. While his parents tried to steer him towards a more practical lifestyle, insisting he major in chemistry at the University of Leipzig, it wasn't long before he was enrolled in Leipzig Conservatory, training in musicology, preparing him for a long, successful and influential career in music.

Having done a good bit of early work as a symphonic composer, even completing a ballet while in his 20s, Rozsa scored the British films "The Squeaker" and "Knight Without Armour" (both 1937) as a way to support himself. Soon after, his work with fellow Hungarians Zoltan and Alexander Korda would bring him worldwide fame and opportunities. His impressive score for Zoltan Korda's "The Four Feathers" (1939) included traditional but rousing adventure themes infused with a fresh use of booming drums and a stirring wailing chorus. Rozsa proved a capable and visionary artist, and was hired to score "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940), directed by the uncredited Kordas, among others. The exotic and sensuous score established Rozsa as a powerfully moving composer and essentially served as his introduction to the American movie system, a medium in which he would work prolifically for over 40 years. Emerging as a versatile and consistently dependable composer, he was always capable of writing a memorable and appropriate score, his expertise extending to such divergent genres as dramatic romance ("That Hamilton Woman" 1941), sharp comedy ("Adam's Rib" 1949), grand epics ("King of Kings" 1961) and film noir ("The Naked City" 1948).

Rozsa began his legendary association with director Billy Wilder with 1943's adventure "Five Graves to Cairo". His score was an especially significant element, building suspense and setting the mood in a film featuring several scenes without dialogue. The composer also accomplished the task of hinting at the deadly silence of the desert, through dropped out musical portions. He followed up with the unforgettable score for the noir classic "Double Indemnity". Unabashedly gloomy and dramatic, Rozsa opened the feature with a foreboding dirge, a march to a dark destiny. The music followed the mood of the film perfectly, both complementing and enhancing Wilder's edgy suspense. For the director's acclaimed 1945 drama "The Lost Weekend", Rozsa masterfully used a theremin, an electronic instrument with an incomparable eerie sound, the perfect expressionistic choice to accompany Ray Milland's disturbing bouts with the DTs. Additional Wilder credits include 1970's "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes", featuring a performance by Holmes of the composer's Violin Concerto, and "Fedora" (1978), with Rosza's score suffering from overediting and underuse in an unremarkable film.

Rosza's dynamic work in the noirish "The Killers" (1946) would prove to be most influential. In addition to the moving operatic ending that melodically underlines Ava Gardner's downfall, the composer created a recurring theme that announced the hit men and marked their every scene. This piece, four solid beats that resound like punches, is later slowed down to the sound of a jail cell closing, illustrating their fate. This portion of the score would later be adapted into the theme song for the popular TV series "Dragnet". Comparably powerful, although much shorter was Rozsa's work for John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950). Very sparsely scored, with real musical accompaniment for the beginning and the end only, the film captured the sound of urban despair in its score, evincing both anxiety and weariness. The musical accompaniment to the film's end is powerful in its simplicity, indicating both desperation and an acceptance of the inevitable negative. The 1947 prison drama "Brute Force" showcased and was served well by Rozsa's evocative soundtrack, his music framing the film's action. The composer's brilliant shaky and despairing reuse of the inspiring and powerful opening theme in the film's final scene proved him a master of dramatic device.

The Hitchcock classic "Spellbound" (1945) gave Rozsa an opportunity to create one of his most breathtaking scores, and won the composer his first Academy Award. He enhanced the romance between Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck with their enthralling and intimate love theme, and punctuated Peck's bouts of conscience with the sinister squeal of a theremin. He additionally won an Oscar for his breakthrough scoring of George Cukor's "A Double Life" (1947), the composer's impeccable music enhancing the compelling and solid melodrama.

Also quite memorable was the composer's work in epic drama, scoring such grand films as "Julius Caesar" (1953), "Ben-Hur" (1959) and "El Cid" (1961). After signing with MGM in the late 40s, Rozsa was hired as the composer for such epics, no doubt on the strength of his previous efforts. He became a student of the history of the films he was to score, meticulously researching to make the filmgoing experience either true to the time (as in the period sound and instrumentation he employed in 1952's "Ivanhoe") or reflective of the characters and themes portrayed (opting for a mesmerizing, lively and vivid lilt for Vincente Minnelli's 1956 Vincent Can Gogh biopic "Lust for Life", while a Wagnerian opera sound would be more consistent with the actual musical atmosphere of the painter's time). While his Oscar-winning score to "Ben-Hur", with its grand drama could be deemed predictable, it remains, nevertheless, unforgettable, Rozsa defining for generations of moviegoers the sound of Biblical drama.

The Hitchcock classic "Spellbound" (1945) gave Rozsa an opportunity to create one of his most breathtaking scores, and won the composer his first Academy Award. He enhanced the romance between Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck with their enthralling and intimate love theme, and punctuated Peck's bouts of conscience with the sinister squeal of a theremin. He additionally won an Oscar for his breakthrough scoring of George Cukor's "A Double Life" (1947), the composer's impeccable music enhancing the compelling and solid melodrama.

Among Rozsa's remarkable later work was his alluring and captivating score for 1977's curious "Providence", his rich and romantic music for "Time After Time" (1979) and his final work, the hard-edged composition for the 1982 noir spoof "Dead Man Don't Wear Plaid" that harkened back to some of the his best earlier work.

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