cover image Music by Max Steiner: The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer

Music by Max Steiner: The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer

Steven C. Smith. Oxford Univ, $34.95 (424p) ISBN 978-0-19-062327-2

In colorful prose and with finely detailed scenes, music journalist Smith (A Place for West Side Story’s Legacy) draws deeply on archives in this first full biography of composer Max Steiner (1888–1971), famous for his scores for Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. Smith traces Steiner’s life from his childhood in Vienna, where his father managed lavish theatrical productions, through his early days in Hollywood, and his work with stars such as Bette Davis and director John Huston, to his final decade, when he composed scores that brimmed over with joy and melody, including the theme for A Summer Place in 1959. From the beginning of his career, Steiner threw himself into his work and was so obsessed with his feelings for music that he often struggled to maintain lasting personal relationships. Smith vividly illustrates the chaotic atmosphere into which Steiner came to RKO in 1929 and the ways he worked with audio engineer Murray Spivack to introduce scores at a time when producers were often dubious about the potential of sound to transform movies. Smith adeptly details the process of making films and Steiner’s involvement in scoring them, such as when in 1933 he hired a team of orchestrators to maintain stylistic consistency in Melody Cruise. Filled with great detail of early Hollywood music, Smith’s biography serves as the definitive study of the composer. (May)