Miklós Rózsa was born in Budapest on April 18, 1907. Though his father wanted him to study chemistry, Rózsa's musical talents led him to the Conservatory in Leipzig, where he studied with such people as Hermann Grabner. Eventually he made his way to Paris, where he tried to make a living composing music, but found that he had to author a few popular tunes under the pseudonym Nic Tomay just to keep food on the table.
Working in Europe throughout the 1930s, Rózsa witnessed first-hand the darkening clouds of the political and military firestorm that would consume the continent. Ordinary citizens felt the presence of the Nazi menace in their everyday lives. Meanwhile, Rózsa returned to France, learning to write fanfares for the cinema, but when the contractors failed to deliver the promised funds, he decided to move to London. He studied choral conducting at the Trinity College of Music and eventually met a Hungarian compatriot, director and producer Alexander Korda, who greatly influenced his decision to write more formally for the cinema, and to relocate eventually to America, where he could continue to compose for both films and the concert hall.
Rózsa was delighted to be on American soil; his autobiographical recollections of life in America, a country he eventually made his own, are filled with humor and grace. By 1943, he had conducted his first Hollywood Bowl concert; five years later, he'd conduct the same orchestra behind the celebrated tenor Mario Lanza, who would also record a vocal version of Rózsa's Quo Vadis? composition, "Lygia." Rózsa was none too thrilled with the superficial Hollywood lifestyle, however; anytime he visited New York City, by contrast, he felt like he was "coming back to civilization again."
It was in America that Rózsa's film scoring career took off. He was a serious composer who refused to bow to those critics who had panned film scoring because it provided a regular cash flow. Bach and Haydn worked for money, Rózsa argued, and many classical composers worked on the basis of commission.
In his lifetime, Rózsa scored about a hundred films. At the height of his career, while he was scoring 4, 5 or 6 films a year, he was also producing works for the concert stage. In 1953 alone, Rózsa did five film scores, including Julius Caesar, Knights of the Round Table, and Young Bess, while also working on his Violin Concerto (which made its debut three years later). He was among the very first film score composers to present an orchestral overture as a prelude to the actual film. His output stretched from monumental epics, where he emphasized historical accuracy, to the most intimate love themes. He matched the moods set by directors as varied as Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli and Douglas Sirk.
Rózsa's scoring was marked by five distinct "periods": The first, Rózsa called the "oriental" period, with films featuring exotic locations (e.g. The Thief of Bagdad, The Four Feathers, and The Jungle Book); the second featured his "psychological" portraits (e.g., Lost Weekend, The Red House, and the Oscar-winning score for Spellbound); the third was his "film noir" period (e.g., Double Indemnity and his Oscar-winning score for A Double Life); the fourth was his Historico-Biblical Period (e.g., Madame Bovary, Quo Vadis, El Cid, Lust for Life (a Biopic of Vincent Van Gogh), and his Oscar-winning score for Ben-Hur); and the fifth was his sci-fi phase (e.g., The Power (notable for its use of the Hungarian cembalo) and Time After Time).
When Rózsa turned 80, he was given a touching tribute by colleagues and friends; even world leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the Pope sent him congratulations. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley dubbed the composer's birthday, April 18, 1987, "Miklós Rózsa Day."
Eight years later, on July 27, 1995, Rózsa died, after a lengthy period of mounting health problems.
Film Scores Composed by Miklós Rózsa Include
- Thunder in the City (1937)
- Knight Without Armour (1937)
- The Divorce of Lady X (1938) -- A comedy starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon
- The Four Feathers (1939)
- The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
- Lady Hamilton AKA That Hamilton Woman (1940) -- Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh as Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton
- The Jungle Book (1942) -- The Sabu version
- So Proudly We Hail! (1943)
- Double Indemnity (1944)
- Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945)
- The Lost Weekend (1945)
- The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) -- Another Barbara Stanwyck Film Noir
- The Killers (1946)
- Madame Bovary (1949)
- Adam's Rib (1949) -- A Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn comedy
- The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
- The Miniver Story (1950)
- Quo Vadis? (1951) (as Miklós Rózsa)
- Ivanhoe (1952)
- Young Bess (1953)
- Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar (1953) -- James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, and Marlon Brando as Antony
- Knights of the Round Table (1953)
- The King's Thief (1955) -- A plodding Swashbuckler distinguished only by the score, George Sanders' second appearance as Charles II, and the fact that David Niven appears as the villain
- Ben-Hur (1959) -- Vying for most epic film score ever.
- King of Kings (1961)
- El Cid (1961)
- The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (1962)
- The Power (1968)
- Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) -- The score was based on Rozsa's Concerto For Violin, Opus 24, which was composed in 1953-4 for violinist Jascha Heifietz (Wilder said that parts of the film's plot were inspired by Rosza's music).
- The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
- Time After Time (1979) -- A Science Fiction Fantasy featuring H. G. Wells' Time-Machine and Jack the Ripper
- Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) -- A Steve Martin Film Noir Parody
- Gesucht: Monika Ertl (1989)