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Miklós Rózsa ( ) or Miklos Rozsa (April 18, 1907 - July 27, 1995) was a Hungarianmarker-born composer, best known for his film scores, most notably the score to the 1959 epic Ben-Hur.


Miklós Rózsa was born in Budapestmarker and was introduced to classical and folk music by his mother, a classical pianist who had studied with pupils of Franz Liszt, and his father, a well-to-do industrialist and landowner who loved Hungarian folk music. He began to study the violin at age 5 and later the viola and piano. By age 8 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, an ethnic minority in the country.

Rózsa did not much like life in Budapest and so went to Leipzigmarker, ostensibly to study chemistry, but with music in mind. He ended up, indeed, studying music full-time at the Leipzig Conservatorymarker with Hermann Grabner, a former student of Max Reger.

Rózsa's first two published works, String Trio op.1 and the Piano Quintet op.2, were published in Leipzig and in 1929 he received his diplomas cum laude. For a time he stayed on in Leipzig as Grabner's assistant but at the suggestion of the French organist and composer Marcel Dupré, 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 Münch, Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, Eugene Ormandy, and Leonard Bernstein.

Rózsa was introduced to film music in 1934 by his friend, the composer Arthur Honegger. They had given a concert together of their compositions when Honegger mentioned he had written the score for the movie of the Les Miserables. Rózsa went to see it and was greatly impressed.

However, it was in London that Rózsa broke into the new medium when he was invited to write the score for the picture Knight without Armour directed by his fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda. After his next score (for Thunder in the City), he joined the staff of Korda's London Films.

In 1939 Rózsa went with Korda to Hollywoodmarker to complete The Thief of Bagdad. Rózsa remained in Californiamarker the rest of his life and scored over 100 films. The recipient of 17 Academy Award nominations, Rózsa won 3 Oscars: for Spellbound, A Double Life, and his magnum opus, Ben-Hur (1959). Other notable scores are Double Indemnity (1944), Quo Vadis , King of Kings (1961), El Cid (1961), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1971) and his highly stylized, descriptive film score for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974).

Calling it "one of the great musical scores of the Seventies", film critic Duncan Shepherd praised Rózsa's scoring of 1977's Providence from Alain Resnais, as "a darkly romantic work that harks back to the mood and manner of his film noir scores of the Forties."[64714]

In 1995 a two-hour Public Radio documentary "Ben Hur: The Epic Film Scores of Miklos Rozsa" was produced by film historian Bruce Crawford. Rozsa also wrote an autobiography,"Double Life".


RCA Victor honored Rózsa in 1975 with a special album of his classic film scores, recorded in quadraphonic sound by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, Spellbound: The Classic Scores of Miklos Rózsa. The album was remixed for Dolby Surround Sound and released on CD.

His film score for Julius Caesar has also been given a new digital stereo re-recording, with Bruce Broughton conducting the Sinfonia of London.

The musical soundtracks of Ben Hur and King of Kings have been issued on CD by Rhino Records.

Notable film scores

Concert works

Rózsa's best known concert work is the orchestral Theme, Variations and Finale, op. 13, which was on the program when Leonard Bernstein made his conducting debut.

Rózsa's Violin Concerto, op. 24, was composed in 1953-54 for the violinist Jascha Heifetz who collaborated with the composer in fine-tuning it. The work evokes the passion of native Hungarian music. Rózsa later adapted portions of this work for the score of Billy Wilder's 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, the plot of which, Wilder has said, was inspired by Rózsa's concerto.

Rózsa's Cello Concerto, Op. 32 was written much later (1967-68) at the request of the cellist János 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 U.S.A. resulted in a professional 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 J S R Lasher and professionally recorded by Allen Giles for the Entr'acte Recording Society in 1978.

The following works for orchestra, solo instruments with orchestra, and concert versions of film scores are as listed bythe Miklós Rózsa Society website:

Works for orchestra

  • Symphony in 3 Movements, Op. 6a (1930/1993)
  • Theme, Variations & Finale, Op. 13 (1933)
  • Theme, Variations & Finale, Op. 13a (Revised version) (1966)
  • Three Hungarian Sketches, Op. 14 (1938)
  • Three Hungarian Sketches, Op. 14a (Revised version) (1958)
  • Concerto for String Orchestra, Op. 17 (1943)
  • Kaleidoscope, 6 short pieces for Small Orchestra, Op. 19a. (1946)
  • Andante for String Orchestra, Op. 22a
  • The Vintner's Daughter, 12 Variations on a French folksong, Op. 23a (1952)
  • Hungarian Serenade, Op. 25 (1945)
  • Overture to a Symphony Concert, Op. 26A (1963)
  • Notturno Ungherese, Op. 28 (1964)
  • Tripartita per Orchestra, Op. 33 (1972)
  • Festive Flourish (1975)

Works for solo instrument with orchestra

  • Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song, Op. 4 (1929) for Violin and Orchestra
  • North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances, Op. 5 (1929) for Violin and Orchestra
  • Violin Concerto, Op. 24 (1953-54)
  • Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 29 (1966) for Violin and Cello and Orchestra
  • Tema con Variazoni, Op. 29a (1966) for Violin, Cello and Orchestra
  • Piano Concerto, Op. 31 (1967)
  • Cello Concerto, Op. 32 (1971)
  • Viola Concerto, Op. 37 (1982)

Concert versions of film scores

  • The Thief of Bagdad Suite (1940)
  • Lady Hamilton Love Theme (1941)
  • Lydia: Love Theme and Waltz (1941)
  • Jungle Book Suite for narrator and orchestra (1942)
  • Lullaby (from The Jungle Book Suite) (1942) for four-part mixed chorus, a cappella
  • Spellbound Concerto for piano and orchestra (1946)
  • Spellbound Concerto (orchestral version) (1946)
  • The Red House Suite (1947)
  • Mark Hellinger Suite (1948)
  • The Madame Bovary Waltz (1949)
  • Quo Vadis Suite (1951)
  • Lust for Life Suite (1956)
  • Ben-Hur Suite (1959)
  • El Cid Suite (1963)
  • New England Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1984) (Themes from Lydia and Time Out of Mind)

Works for solo instruments

  • Sonatina for Clarinet Solo, Op. 27 (1957)
  • Toccata capricciosa for Violoncello Solo, Op. 36 (1979, dedicated to the memory of Gregor Piatigorsky and premiered by Jeffrey Solow)
  • Sonata for Flute Solo, Op. 39 (1983)
  • Sonata for Violin Solo, Op. 40 (1985)
  • Sonata for Clarinet Solo, Op. 41 (1986, premiered 1987 by Gervase de Peyer)
  • Sonata for Guitar, Op. 42 (1986)


  • Miklos Rozsa: "Quo Vadis?" Film Music Notes, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1951)
  • Miklós Rózsa: Double Life: The Autobiography of Miklós Rózsa, Composer in the Golden Years of Hollywood, Seven Hills Books (1989) - ISBN 0859362094
  • Miklós Rózsa: Double Life: The Autobiography of Miklós Rózsa, Composer in the Golden Years of Hollywood, The Baton Press (1984) - ISBN 0-85936-141-1 (Softcover edition)
  • Miklós Rózsa: Életem történeteiből (Discussions with János Sebestyén, edited by György Lehotay-Horváth). Zeneműkiadó, Budapest (1980) - ISBN 963 330 354 0
  • Christopher Palmer: Miklós Rózsa. A Sketch Of His Life And Work. With a foreword by Eugene Ormandy. Breitkopf
& Härtel, London, Wiesbaden (1975)
  • Miklós Rózsa and Miklós Rózsa on Film Music in Tony Thomas: Film Score. The Art & Craft of Movie Music, Riverwood Press (1991) - ISBN 1-880756-01-3, p. 18-32
  • Miklós Rózsa in William Darby und Jack Du Bois: American Film Music. Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915 - 1990. McFarland (1990) - ISBN 0-7864-0753-0 - p. 307-344
  • Miklós Rózsa in Christopher Palmer: The Composer In Hollywood. Marion Boyars (1993) - ISBN 0-7145-2950-8 - p. 186-233
  • From 1950 to the Present in Roy M. Prendergast: Film Music. A Neglected Art. A Critical Study of Music in Films. Second Edition. Norton (1992) - ISBN 0-393-30874-x - p. 98-179 (in this chapter, the author analyzes Rózsa's score from Quo Vadis (p. 126-130), on a few pages more, he also discusses Julius Caesar and King of Kings), a couple of other film works by Miklós Rózsa are merely mentioned)
  • Jeffrey Dane: "A Composer's Notes: Remembering Miklós Rózsa", iUniverse (2006) - ISBN 0595414338

External links

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