book cover photo of Max Steiner

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

During a seven-decade career that spanned from 19th century Vienna to 1920s Broadway to the golden age of Hollywood, three-time Academy Award winner Max Steiner did more than any other composer to establish the language of film music, while writing many of cinema’s most memorable scores.

Contemporary film composers use the same techniques that Steiner perfected in his work for such classics as Casablanca, King Kong, Gone with the Wind, The Searchers, Mildred Pierce, Now, Voyager, the Astaire-Rogers musicals, and over 200 other titles. And Steiner’s private life was a drama all its own. Born into a legendary Austrian theatrical dynasty, he became one of Hollywood’s top-paid composers. But he was also constantly in debt — the result of gambling, financial mismanagement, four marriages, and the actions of his emotionally troubled son.

Throughout his chaotic life, Steiner was buoyed by an innate optimism, a quick wit, and an instinctive gift for melody. All came to the fore as he met and worked with such luminaries as Richard Strauss, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, the Warner Bros., David O. Selznick, Frank Capra, Bette Davis, and Frank Sinatra. In this first full biography of Steiner, Steven C. Smith interweaves the dramatic incidents of Steiner’s personal life with an accessible exploration of his composing methods. The result is a vivid portrait of a master dramatist and musical pioneer who helped create a vital new art form, and transformed the sound of cinema.


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