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Max Steiner

Max Steiner

Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner was born in Vienna on May 10, 1888, the only son of a well-to-do business family with strong musical and theatrical connections. At an early age Steiner attended the Vienna School of Technology and received his musical education from the Imperial Academy of Music, where he studied organ, trumpet, violin and piano and completed the four-year course in one year. His teachers included Robert Fuchs, Felix Weingartner and Gustav Mahler.

At the age of twelve Steiner had his public debut conducting the operetta The Belle of New York in his father's theater; at sixteen he wrote his first operetta, The Beautiful Greek Girl, which he himself conducted during its year-long run at the Orpheum Theater in Vienna. During the following years Steiner built a reputation as a theater conductor, working in such international capitals as Berlin, Johannesburg, Moscow, Paris and Vienna, but basing himself especially in Britain, where he stayed for some eight years (1906-14).

Soon after the outbreak of war in Europe, Steiner accepted an invitation from Florenz Ziegfeld to work in New York, finally arriving there in December, 1914. The next fifteen years were spent arranging, orchestrating and conducting musical shows, both on Broadway and on tour, working with many of the big names of the time like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern.

In 1929, as a result of his work two years earlier on Rio Rita, Steiner was invited out by RKO to the West Coast to work on the film version. He arrived in Hollywood on Christmas Day 1929--a move that was to become permanent. RKO initially offered him a six-month contract to orchestrate Rio Rita and Hit the Deck, but he stayed for six years, becoming the head of the studio's music department in 1930, and composing and conducting the film score for one of RKO's biggest film, King Kong, in 1933. In 1936, he left RKO to work for David O. Selznick's new independent company, but the quantity of work was not sufficient to occupy Steiner on a full-time basis.

He joined Warner Brothers in April 1937. During this period, apart from a handful of loan-outs (most notably for Selznick's Gone With the Wind in 1939), he worked exclusively for the studio until his retirement in the mid-1960's, creating classic scores to films like Dodge City (1939), They Died with Their Boots On (1941), Now Voyager (1942), Casablanca (1942), The Big Sleep (1946), and The Beast With Five Fingers (1947). His Warner Bros. fanfare, still used today, stems from the film Tovarich (1937). Steiner died on December 28, 1971, aged eighty-three.

--FRED STEINER, from the liner notes, 1976

A selection of Max Steiner film scores.
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A selection of Max Steiner in books.

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