Remembering Miklós Rózsa
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Jeffrey Dane, USA
1. May 2007
The author with the composer in New York, Oct. 1978, after a screening of
"Ben-Hur" and "King of Kings".
As a young teenager studying music, I thought of how fulfilling it would
be to compose serious music for films. Aside from an early but very
earnest and successful effort in composing the music for a friend's
film, the closest I ever got to the initial hope was operatively the
next best thing: I was privileged to get to know one of the truly great
composers who worked and spent most of his career in Hollywood. The
music he composed, for whatever purpose and venue, within or without the
studio, was better than anything I could ever have written, so I have no
In his memoirs, Miklós Rózsa relates how a young man once told him that
as a boy he had been ". . . sufficiently moved by the music [for
Kings"] to familiarize himself with the same events as recounted by Bach
in the Passions." I had unwittingly followed that example: finding that Rózsa's film music made an eloquent appeal to my musical sensitivities,
I ultimately extended my search from his movie scores to his concert and
chamber works. . . I was soon pursuing his absolute music with even more
verve than his film scores. . .
in 70mm reading:
A Visit With Miklós Rózsa
Remembering Dimitri Tiomkin
New recording of Tiomkin's ALAMO
The contact is Mr. Dan Silvia
A letter from the composer, in which he makes mention of
Click image to see enlargement
It's been said that in Hollywood "you're only as good as your most
recent success." Unfortunately it's often a common guideline for the
shallow. The view Miklós Rózsa took of others he recognized as earnest,
sensible, intelligent people was that you're always as good as the best
thing you've ever done. Indeed, earnest, sensible and intelligent people
will recognize the contrast.
I was lucky enough to attend the New York premiéres of "King of Kings" in
1961, and then of "El Cid". My primary target was to meet the composer. At
the former, I asked director Nicholas Ray if Miklós Rózsa was there that
night, and he replied that he was in Spain working on the score for "El
At the premiére of "El Cid" not long afterward, I asked producer
Samuel Bronston if the composer was present that evening. "No, I believe
Dr. Rózsa is in London working on the score for "The VIPs"." Patience can
have its own reward -- but it should be coupled with perseverance.
May 3, 2007
Thank you for posting on your website the info and material I sent you about
my book on Miklos Rozsa. You have made an extremely handsome presentation of
it, I must say.
I am headquartered in New York City. -- And on your next visit here, I would
be pleased to have the pleasure of personally making your acquaintance.
Yours again with thanks,
The author with Dr. Miklos Rozsa in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), Oct.
1977, after the composer conducted a concert of his own works.
I wrote to Miklós Rózsa for the first time late in 1967. I included
manuscript paper on which I had notated the cello part in the "Farewell
To Rome" sequence from the album More Music From Ben-Hur, conducted --
according to the album's credits -- by Erich Kloss, though Rózsa enthusiasts
now know better. (The first recording of music from the film, an MGM deluxe
soundtrack album on which Carlo Savina conducted, didn't include this
"Farewell To Rome" sequence). On the staff above the cello part, I notated
in red pencil the recording's prominent violin solo, and I included the
harmonies on the two lower staves. I told Dr. Rózsa in my letter that I
didn't recall having heard the violin solo in the film itself.
The first meeting. -- In the spring of 1972 I'd heard about the imminent
formation of an organization to be called The Miklós Rózsa Society. After
some inquiries, in early June I phoned the founder to ask for details about
the fledgling entity. I soon became a Charter Member of the Society.
The author with the composer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA in May,
1984, on the occasion of the world premiére performances of the composer's
Concerto for Viola & Orchestra.
During our chat he mentioned in passing that Dr. Rózsa himself was in
New York City enroute to Italy, and that they'd be meeting for lunch on
Saturday. I said something to the effect that, ". . . I imagine Dr. Rózsa is
staying at a place like the Waldorf-Astoria," but I was told he was actually
at the Hotel Algonquin.
The Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained principle applied here. . . I
prepared a telegram to send to Dr. Rózsa at his hotel, in which I told him
it was nice to know he was now nearby, and that the new Society's director
would be very fortunate in having lunch with him on Saturday. As a courtesy
I ended my telegram with a phrase in Hungarian: Leg szívesseb és szerenczés
jövöt kivánok (meaning, idiomatically translated, With every good wish and
with sincerest respect).
In response to my telegram to the composer, I expected nothing -- but we
all have the right to hope.
In mid-afternoon on Thursday, June 8 , my phone rang. The composer was
calling. "This is Mr. Rózsa," he said. It was only later on I learned
why he so introduced himself: it seems he'd caused some undue concern on
a few occasions with those he didn't know, when he had identified
himself on the telephone as Dr. Rózsa.
On this fine June day, made the finer by his phone call, he thanked me
for my "very sweet telegram," we exchanged some pleasantries -- and he
invited me to join him for lunch on Saturday at the Russian Tea Room,
adjacent to Carnegie Hall, at 12:30pm. He also added, "Please tell [the
Society's director] that he may also invite as many members of the
Society as he wishes."
of the myriad films for which Miklos Rozsa composed the music are:
· Knight Without Armour ( - his first film score)
· The Four Feathers
· The Thief of Bagdad
· Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book
· Double Indemnity
· Blood on the Sun
· The Lost Weekend
· Spellbound (Academy Award)
· The Killers
· The Red House
· Brute Force
· A Double Life (Academy Award)
· The Naked City
· Madame Bovary
· The Asphalt Jungle
· Quo Vadis
· Plymouth Adventure
· Julius Caesar
· Young Bess
· Knights of the Round Table
· Men of the Fighting Lady
· Valley of the Kings
· Green Fire
· Tribute to a Bad Man
· Bhowani Junction
· Lust for Life
· Something of Value
· A Time to Love and a Time to Die
· The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
· Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Academy Award)
· King Of Kings
· El Cid
The composer's address in Italy, written in his own letter-hand on the
day the author first met him.
Click image to see enlargement
The composer and five of his admirers spent about three hours at that
luncheon, during which I gave him a copy of my first published article,
"The Significance of Film Music", which had appeared in the May, 1961
issue of American Cinematographer Magazine. I also offered him a sheet
of staff paper and asked him if he'd be kind enough simply to jot down
his address in Italy so that I might write to him.
Among the countless questions asked of him by all of us on this day, one
from me was whether or not he had a special, personal preference for a
particular abstract work of his, and for any one of his film scores.
Without hesitation, he replied, ""My Piano Sonata", and "The Lost
"There was no-one in Hollywood whose acquaintance I more earnestly
desired to make than Aldous Huxley . . . When I met [Richard] Strauss, I
was almost speechless with admiration." This is what Dr. Rózsa said in
his memoirs. I can best voice my own sentiment about him by paraphrasing
the ideal way he had verbalized his feelings. There was no-one in
Hollywood whose acquaintance I more earnestly desired to make than
Miklós Rózsa. And when I finally met him -- at 12:30pm on Saturday, June
10th, 1972, after thirteen years of trying -- I felt almost speechless
I had no way of knowing I'd eventually get to know him as I did, and
that he'd ultimately call me his friend.
· Sodom and Gomorrah
· The V.I.P.s
· The Power
· The Green Berets
· The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
· The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
· The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
· Last Embrace
· Time After Time
· Eye of the Needle
· Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid ( - his last film score)
Extract 1 - Remembering Miklós Rózsa
Table of Contents
. . . With his music for "Ben-Hur" (MGM, 1959), Rózsa created a veritable
classic in film scores. The opening passages are vital to the film's
atmosphere. They're responsible in large measure for creating the mood
of the entire feature (three hours and 28 minutes long in its
original-release form), and they make the viewer aware they're about to
experience something significant.
The prologue, a filmic depiction of the Adoration of the Magi, concludes
with the sound of a shepherd's horn as the Star of Bethlehem fades into
the night sky and disappears. A sudden strong but gradual build-up is
heard from the brass and then briefly sustained on a chord as "A
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Production" appears on the screen in gold Roman
lettering. As the music continues a harmonic ascent with a crescendo of
brass fanfare, a cymbal crash and final chord of the opening motif is
heard, and the main title "Ben-Hur" appears on the screen against a
magnificent backdrop of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco, The
Creation of Adam.
The music is dramatic and inspiring and carries the viewer through the
film's entire prelude, supports the remaining opening credits, and
quietly modulates into the movie's first scene. Rarely has so much
stirring and descriptive musical material been poured into a mere
introduction to a film. To evoke so much feeling in such a relatively
short passage of time has its own intrinsic difficulties, but Rózsa
succeeded with "Ben-Hur" and the results of his efforts on this score
earned him his third Academy Award.
"The single best performance I've seen in any movie" is how filmologist
Don Miller described Frank Faylen's minor role but memorable portrayal
of the sadistic male nurse in the film, The Lost Weekend. One can
comfortably and suitably clothe his remark in musical garb: "Ben-Hur"'s
"Magi" sequence is graced with what may be the most touchingly moving
"Nativity" music heard in any film. Since our reactions are by nature
personal we can speak only for ourselves, not for others, but that
passage in the film gives new meaning to the concept of inspiring and
affectingly beautiful music, even without the visuals. Rózsa himself
felt Bach would approve, and it seems he pulled out all the stops for
this music. Rózsa had chutzpah, the slang Yiddish word for audacity: he
also pulled the wool over the studio's eyes, thereby discrediting his
"superiors" by implication, when he suggested composing music of his
own, rather than complying with the idiotic request to use the
anacronistic Adeste Fideles (O Come, All Ye Faithful). The studio
disregarded that notion when Rózsa threatened to leave the picture, and
that his own music in fact postdates the medieval Latin hymn seemed to
escape the attention of those "in charge."
Christ's birth was an event which in retrospect was ultimately unique in
the world's history. The historical consequences of what happened then
are now a matter of historical record. No-one like the rabbi from
Nazareth had ever lived before, and music accompanying a cinematic
representation of the advent of that occurrence should be unique as
well, in keeping with the singularity -- and the ultimate extent -- of
the circumstances. Rózsa had the right idea, it would appear.
The general paradoxes of the film colony extend even to musical matters
in particular. By various legal strictures and other problems, at the time
of the film's release the commercial record albums of the score had to be
conducted by others, rather than the composer himself, and that by a strange
set of logistical difficulties it wasn't until only 1996 that a commercial
recording (on the Rhino label) of the original "Ben-Hur"
stereo music tracks, conducted in the film by Rózsa himself, was made
available to the public -- nearly four decades late but certainly none
the worse for it.
Author’s Preface and Notes
Film Music: Observations and Comments
A Note On The Correspondence
Notes and Letters, 1968 – 1978
Notes and Letters, 1979 – 1983
Notes and Letters, 1984 – 1988
Pittsburgh Chronicle – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Thursday, May 3rd
- A Conversation With Miklós Rózsa
- Thursday Evening
- Friday Morning Rehearsal
- Friday Evening
- Concert Time: The Sound of Music
- Saturday Morning
- Saturday Afternoon
- Saturday Evening Performance
- A Post-Concert Gathering
- Sunday Afternoon
Two Rózsa colleagues:
A Visit With Miklós Rózsa – Los Angeles, California
A Memorial Tribute
Extract 2- Remembering Miklós Rózsa
The first letter the author received from the composer, regarding a
portion of the "Ben-Hur" score.
Click image to see enlargement
. . . The Hamilton [Ontario, Canada] performances provided some
interesting episodes. The concerts on two successive evenings gave us
two successive incidents that point up just how human all of us can be.
At the first concert, the composer's tempo in conducting the "Rowing of
the Galley Slaves" from "Ben-Hur" was conspicuously faster than what most
of us were accustomed to hearing on recordings. Additionally, at the end
of the piece, the tympanist mis-counted and thusly added two extra drum
strokes -- giving an embarrassingly conspicuous seventh beat to the
six-beat phrase that ends the sequence. Those two extra blows on the
tympani came at the worst possible moment, since they happened during a
short but totally silent orchestral "hold" (fermata) right before the
final bar. I was seated very near the stage and to the left of the
conductor's podium, and I could see Dr. Rózsa shoot a glance at the
hapless drummer at that point. As he put down his baton to turn around
and acknowledge the enthusiastic applause, he glared once again for an
instant at the poor tympanist.
The last page of the composer's manuscript score of his Concerto for
Viola & Orchestra, on which he notes the specific date and place of the work's completion.
Click image to see enlargement
Also played at these concerts was the Parade of the Charioteers from
"Ben-Hur". At the first night's performance, even the composer himself
missed a cue, anticipating only one bar where two had been written.
Luckily this, too, happened near the very end of the piece; Dr. Rózsa's
recovery time was as immediate as Leonard Bernstein's was legendary, and
the entire orchestra ended together.
When the Galley Slaves sequence's faster tempo was mentioned to the
composer at a post-concert reception on the first night, his reply was
something to the effect that, "We'll see what happens tomorrow." One can
easily imagine a wink in the composer's voice. Needless to say, the next
evening's performance of that piece was noticeably slower and more
deliberate, and closer in tempo to what was heard in the film itself --
and there were also no further miscalculations, from either the
conductor, or drums and battery.
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