Miklós Rózsa (Hungarian: [ˈmikloːʃ ˈroːʒɒ]; 18 April 1907 – 27 July 1995) was a Hungariancomposer 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. 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."
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.
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. 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.
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.
Rózsa was introduced to film music in 1934 by his friend, the Swiss 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.
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 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, 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, making Rózsa, to date, the only composer to have won against two of their own scores. Rózsa, who also reportedly hated the interruptions and interference by producer David O Selznick, never worked for either Hitchcock or Selznick again.
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.
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 films 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). 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.
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 Cello Concerto, Op. 32 was written much later (1967–68) at the request of the cellistJános 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.