Commentary Magazine


Movie Music

To the Editor:

Though I cannot fathom what led Terry Teachout to write on Miklós Rózsa more than five years after the composer’s death, his article [“The Double Life of Miklós Rózsa,” December 2001] is nevertheless a welcome addition to the literature on one of the 20th century’s great artists.

I must take exception, however, with Mr. Teachout’s assertion that Rózsa was dismissive of nearly all of his Hollywood colleagues. Rózsa’s admiration for the Czech-born American composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was boundless, and his opinion of many others laboring in movie-studio music departments was more than respectful. These included such gifted musicians as Franz Waxman, Elmer Bernstein, MGM music director Johnny Green, and a young pianist and composer named André Previn.

Moreover, Mr. Teachout is inaccurate in his portrayal of Rózsa’s friend, George Antheil (1900-59), as a “more pliable composer.” Antheil, whose autobiography was titled, tellingly, Bad Boy of Music, was anything but pliable. Rózsa related in his own memoirs that Antheil once pulled a pistol on his audience at a piano recital, demanding that they stop laughing at his music. Had Antheil been more accommodating of musically conservative and ignorant studio music directors, he would undoubtedly have written more than the relative handful of film scores in his résumé.

A. Lee Hern
Los Angeles, California

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To the Editor:

Terry Teachout’s article on Miklós Rózsa was, as usual, profound and well researched, and deserved by this marvelous composer. But Mr. Teachout fails to mention the most challenging and innovative film Rózsa ever had anything to do with, as well as one of the best: Alain Resnais’s Providence (1977), starring the late Sir John Gielgud. Rózsa also incorporated his 1956 Violin Concerto into the score for the underrated Billy Wilder film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), which featured, I believe, the composer’s single on-camera appearance, conducting in London’s Albert Hall.

Dan Bates
Lancaster, Texas

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Terry Teachout writes:

I thank A. Lee Hern and Dan Bates for their letters. I did not quite say, however, that Miklós Rózsa was “dismissive of nearly all of his Hollywood colleagues.” In fact, the passage from Rózsa’s autobiography to which I was referring specifically addressed the state of Hollywood film music in 1939, when Rózsa first arrived in the United States. The situation changed greatly after that—in no small part because of his example.

As for George Antheil, I was once again referring only to his work for Hollywood. He may have been a “bad boy of music” in the 20’s, but it is startling to hear his bland, unmemorable scores for such powerful movies as, say, Nicholas Ray’s stark film noir, In a Lonely Place (1950). Whatever his other achievements, Antheil never succeeded in distinguishing himself as a composer of film music.

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