This article is about the film composer. For other persons with the same name, see Max Steiner.
Max Steiner (May 10, 1888 - December 28, 1971) was an Academy Award-winning Austrian-American composer of music for theatre productions and films. He probably is known best for the score he composed for the classic Gone with the Wind and for the score and hugely popular theme song for the film A Summer Place.
Steiner was born Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. Later on in his life he found out he had a half brother named James Owen, with whom he co-wrote the song Theme from A Summer Place. His paternal grandfather was Maximilian Steiner (1830-1880), the influential manager of Vienna's Theater an der Wien; his father was Gabor Steiner (1858-1944), Viennese impresario and carnival and exposition manager, responsible for the Ferris wheel in the Prater that would become the setting for a key scene of the film The Third Man (1949); his godfather was the composer Richard Strauss. A child prodigy in composing, Steiner received piano instruction from Johannes Brahms and, at the age of sixteen, enrolled at the Imperial Academy of Music (now known as the University of Music and Performing Arts), where he was taught by Gustav Mahler among others. His musical aptitudes enabled him to complete the school's four-year program in only two.
At the age of 16 Steiner wrote and conducted the operetta The Beautiful Greek Girl. At the start of World War I, he was working in London and was classified as an enemy alien but was befriended by the Duke of Westminster and given exit papers. He arrived in New York City in December 1914 with $32 to his name.
Steiner worked in New York for eleven years as a musical director, arranger, orchestrator, and conductor of Broadway operettas and musicals written by Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, and George Gershwin, among others. His credits included George White's Scandals (1922), Lady, Be Good (1924), and Rosalie (1928).
In 1929, Steiner went to Hollywood to orchestrate the European film version of the Florenz Ziegfield show Rio Rita for RKO. The score for King Kong (1933) made Steiner's reputation; it was one of the first American films to have an extensive musical score. He conducted the scores for several Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, including Top Hat (1935) and Roberta (1935).
Steiner scored hundreds of Hollywood films, and was the most prominent composer in the music department at Warner Bros., where he wrote the famous fanfare that introduced most of the studio's films from 1937 through the early 1950s. Steiner continued to score Warner films until the mid 1960s; he usually worked with orchestrator Murray Cutter. His final original film score was the 1965 film Two on a Guillotine. He also wrote music for several of the television series produced by Warner Brothers.
In 1954, RCA Victor asked Steiner to prepare and conduct an orchestral suite of music from Gone with the Wind for a special LP, which was later issued on CD.
After his death, Charles Gerhardt conducted the National Philharmonic Orchestra in an RCA Victor album of highlights from Steiner's career, titled Now Voyager. Additional selections of Steiner scores were included on other RCA classic film albums during the early 1970s. The quadraphonic recordings were later digitally remastered for Dolby surround sound and released on CD.