If you’ve never heard of Miklos Rozsa, he won’t mind. His fame is secure in Hollywood.
The composer (1907–95), a Budapest native who eventually came to the United States to escape World War II, made his mark with music for the silver screen.
His movie scores spanned generations of filmmaking: from early ’40s hits like “The Thief of Bagdad,” through memorable epics like “Spellbound” and “Ben-Hur,” all the way up to his final film, Steve Martin’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” You may not know his name, but you’ve heard his music.
The Cape Ann Symphony Orchestra brings some of Rozsa’s compositions to life this weekend in concerts at Manchester-Essex Regional High School and Ipswich High School. CASO music director Yoichi Udagawa conducts, and Boston Symphony Orchestra members Lucy Lin (violin) and Owen Young (cello) join the ensemble.
Like the accomplished film composers of that generation—Bernard Herrmann, or Erich Korngold—Rozsa also wrote a great deal of concert music. The CASO mixes in the soundtrack from the famous chariot scene from “Ben-Hur,” along with the composer’s “Sinfonia Concertante,” written in the early ’60s for two of the most famous soloists of the day, violinist Jascha Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” completes the ambitious program, which closes the CASO’s subscription season.
Rozsa’s concert music has not found the popularity of his film scores, but perhaps the increasing number of concerts focusing on film music might bring some increased attention. “He always had is foot in the concert music world,” Young says about Rozsa. “He used to refer to it as ‘my duality, my double life.’ He really knew what he was doing as a composer. He was trained in Germany, and at Leipzig Conservatory.
“The piece is written for violin and cello, but also for a very big, dramatic orchestra,” Young says. “You can tell there’s a lot of Hungarian folk material, especially in the outer movements.”
The slow movement—a theme and variations—is a highlight, with a different texture than those outer movements.
“The cello starts and presents the theme,” Young says, “which I guess Heifetz was a little ruffled about. He thought the violin should begin. There was some quibbling about that.”
There was actually considerable quibbling between the soloists, according to accounts by Rozsa, which resulted in only the theme-and-variations movement being recorded by Heifetz and Piatigorsky.
“But it’s a really beautiful movement,” he says. “A wonderful set of variations. There’s seven in all, and the violin gets highlighted in the last one. So I guess Heifetz got his way in the end.”
Rozsa’s story is one example of how the hardships in Europe during the wars benefited America’s artistic life in unexpected ways.
“The war brought a lot of these incredible talents to the United States, and so many of them ended up writing movie scores,” Young says. “It’s just a different way of composing—the music is driving the drama. You always have the visuals—and they are often artistic in their own right.
“Myself, I always listen to the music—I was like that even as a kid,” he says. “But it’s interesting what happens when you separate them out. A lot of great music went into those movie scores.”
The Cape Ann Symphony Orchestra, Yoichi Udagawa conducting, with soloists Lucy Lin (violin) and Owen Young (cello), performs music of Rozsa and Dvorak this weekend in Manchester and Ipswich. For tickets and information visit www.capeannsymphony.org or call 978-281-0543.