Miklos Rozsa was born in 1907 in what was then Austria-Hungary. He could play the violin at the age of 5, and was able to read music before he could read words. He lived what he referred to as a double life mixing pure concert music, which he loved but was unable to make a decent living out of, and a massive catalogue of film soundtracks across a career that spanned eight decades.
He composed his first film score in 1937 for the film, Knight Without Armour, and went on to 17 Academy Award nominations and three wins for his work on a wide range of films. He scored everything from Biblical epics to film noir. He introduced the experimental theremin into his score for the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s 1945 film Spellbound. I might do a couple of weeks focussing on his work, as there is so much of it. What I really wanted to highlight in this week’s post was the film for which he won his third Academy Award.
Ben Hur (1959)
William Wyler’s film version of General Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, Ben-Hur – A Tale of the Christ is one of my all time favourites. I think when I was a child, I thought it was about eight hours long. We always used to watch it in chunks and it seemed to last forever. I’ve always loved the music though. It’s a perfect score with so much emotion written into it, that befits what was at the time, the biggest film ever made. Paramount had enjoyed a big success with The Ten Commandments in 1956 and this was MGM’s spur to enter the Biblical epic market. Rozsa’s soundtrack, fittingly, was the longest ever composed; a record it kept until 2001. He researched Greek and Roman music in his development of the soundtrack and what he produced became one of the most influential works in cinema all the way through until the mid 1970s.
Ben-Hur became the second highest grossing film of all time behind Gone With The Wind and went on to win 11 Academy Awards. I got the chance to see it in the cinema a few years back when it was featured in Austin, Texas’ Paramount Theatre Summer programme. Seeing it on the big screen was a special experience, the setting of an old theatre giving some approximation of what it was like to see the film in its original release. There was a talk beforehand but I can’t remember who gave it. I remember hearing about how Ben-Hur was one of the first ever blockbuster movies with endless marketing opportunities exploited. They even sold Ben-Hur flour. My favourite bit of trivia is that the MGM lion is silent at the beginning. He doesn’t roar like he does at the beginning of every other MGM film. It was felt that the roar would not fit the sacred nature of the opening Nativity scene.
Anyway, this is a Monday Music post, so I suppose I’d better give you some music. Here are my highlights from Miklos Rozsa’s wonderful score. Enjoy.
Here are some more of my Monday Music posts if you fancy some more random bits of music. If not, thanks for reading.
Have a good week.