Music of Miklos Rozsa this weekend. Universally known as one of the key film composers during the “Golden Age of Hollywood”, his soundtracks have been considered serious works for a number of decades now, even to the point where many of his film scores are considered Classical Music (certainly by a few radio stations).
But Miklos Rozsa had another life, a life dedicated to an allegiance to “absolute concert music” – a life that yielded a treasure trove of rich music designed specifically for the concert hall, and not the movie theatre.
Sometimes it’s hard – almost impossible, to have the freedom to remove yourself from the pigeon hole certain aspects of creative life put you in. Rozsa has more than established his name as a film soundtrack composer – but you might be hard pressed to name some of his more serious pieces. And that’s the part that is unfortunate, because Miklos Rozsa was a tremendously gifted composer whose concert pieces were championed by such luminaries as Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky and Janos Starker.
Rózsa’s first major success was the orchestral Theme, Variations, and Finale, Op. 13, introduced in Duisburg, Germany, in 1934 and soon taken up by Charles Munch, Karl Böhm, Bruno Walter, Hans Swarowsky, and other leading conductors.
It was first played in the United States by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Hans Lange on 28–29 October 1937, and achieved wide exposure through a 1943 New York Philharmonic concert broadcast when Leonard Bernstein made his famous conducting debut.
By 1952, his film score work was proving so successful that he was able to negotiate a clause in his contract with MGM that gave him three months each year away from the film studio so that he could focus on concert music.
Rózsa’s Violin Concerto, Op. 24, was composed in 1953–54 for the violinist Jascha Heifetz, who collaborated with the composer in fine-tuning it. Rózsa later adapted portions of this work for the score of Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). Rózsa’s Cello Concerto, Op. 32 was written much later (1967–68) at the request of the cellist János Starker, who premiered the work in Berlin in 1969.
Between his violin and cello concertos, Rózsa composed his Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 29, for violin, cello, and orchestra. The commissioning artists, Heifetz and his frequent collaborator Gregor Piatigorsky, never performed the finished work, although they did record a reduced version of the slow movement, called Tema con Variazoni, Op. 29a.
Rózsa also received recognition for his choral works. His collaboration with conductor Maurice Skones and The Choir of the West at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, resulted in a commercial recording of his sacred choral works—To Everything There is a Season, Op. 20; The Vanities of Life, Op. 30; and The Twenty-Third Psalm, Op. 34—produced by John Steven Lasher and recorded by Allen Giles for the Entr’acte Recording Society in 1978.
This piece, his Serenade (or Hungarian Serenade) was written in 1945 and this is probably the first commercial recording of it, featuring the La Jolla Musical Arts Festival Orchestra, conducted by the celebrated Nikolai Sokoloff, who was Music Director for the Cleveland Orchestra from 1918-1932, where he made many milestone recordings for the Brunswick label.