Miklos Rozsa

(1907 - 1982)

1940    Thief of Bagdad

1944    Double Indemnity

1945    The Lost Weekend

1945    Spellbound (Academy Award) 

1947    A Double Life (Academy Award)

1951    Quo Vadis

1959    Ben-Hur (Academy Award)

1961    El Cid

Hungarian-born Miklos Rozsa began as a concert composer, and came to Hollywood in 1940 to score the film Thief of Bagdad. Throughout his career, he specialized in three primary areas- exotic fantasies (Thief of Bagdad), psychological dramas (Spellbound) and historical epics (Quo Vadis). Rozsa composed over 100 film scores, was nominated for 17 academy awards, and won 3 Oscars. Rozsa’s score for  Junglebook  (1942) was one of the first film scores released on LP. 

Thief of Bagdad (1940)

The score to The Thief of Bagdad is set to a very colorful and exotic orchestration, with some resemblance to Arabian-themed ballet scores from Russian composers of the late nineteenth century (Rimsky-Korsakov in particular).  

In the market scene (22:48), director Vincent Korda first attempted (unsuccessfully) to synchronize the film action to Rozsa’s existing pre-composed music. After a re-shoot, the music was cut to fit the action, while retaining some of the original intent. 

The Thief of Bagdad

Rozsa liked to depict magical and supernatural events with bright, colorful orchestration. In this scene scored for glockenspiel, marimba, chimes, harp, celesta, and pizzicato strings, the old sultan rides a magical mechanical horse over Basra (39:30).

Jaffar’s tritone-laden theme is heard throughout the storm scene scene (57:25), where he uses his magical power to conjure up a storm in an attempt to sink Abu’s ship. Rozsa unleashes a fury of orchestral power when depicting the storm. The scene continues when the boy washes ashore and finds the genie’s bottle. 

The longest musical sequence takes place in the skeleton room, where Abu fights to the death with a large spider (116:40). Rozsa continues with his animated score, much in the style of Igor Stravinsky’s music for the Ballet Russe (1909-1913).

The Silvermaid scene is another example of Rozsa’s brilliance at scoring for exotica.

The Thief of Bagdad - Silvermaiden Scene

The Lost Weekend (1945)

This Billy Wilder classic film follows five days in the life of a failed writer-turned-alcoholic. The movie was groundbreaking as it represented the first attempt by a Hollywood film company to depict a taboo social problem. The alcohol industry attempted to stop distribution of the film by offering a large sum to purchase all copies of the negatives, but the film was released anyway, and received critical success- including the Academy Award for best picture. Rozsa used the Theremin as a musical signifier of the main character’s desire for liquor.

Spellbound (1945)

Rozsa’s Academy Award-winning score once again uses the Theremin to signify the mental state of a main character (Gregory Peck). This Alfred Hitchcock classic includes several famous scenes, notably the kiss scene (23:40), and the “dream sequence” designed by artist Salvador Dali (1:26:55)