Early Life in Vienna

Max Raoul Steiner was born into a renowned Viennese theatre family, which resided in Praterstraße 72 in the 2nd Viennese district, on 10 May 1888. Steiner was named after his famous grandfather, Maximilian Steiner. His grandfather was the impresario of local »Theater an der Wien«, in which he staged operettas. The grandfather animated, amongst others, Johann Strauss to write for the theatre and was the first to stage his operetta »Die Fledermaus«, with great success. The father, Gabor Steiner, advanced to the position of director at the local theatres Ronacher and Orpheum. In 1895 the successful and creative businessman also developed the popular amusement park »Venedig in Wien« (Venice in Vienna) and had the later landmark of Vienna, the so-called »Riesenrad« (Giant Ferris wheel), built in the »Prater« in 1897. Max Steiner’s mother had inherited three renowned Viennese restaurants from her family, which she ran devotedly. The Steiner family was deeply rooted in the Viennese music culture. The godfather of Max Steiner was Richard Strauss and among the friends of the family we find, among others, Jacques Offenbach, Johann Strauss’ son and Franz Lehar. At the early age of 16 Max Steiner attended the local »Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst” (Academy of Music and Art), where he was educated as a pianist, composer and conductor and was honoured as the class winner with the Emperor’s Golden Medal. Steiner gained first-hand experience as a conductor of operettas and revues in his father’s theatres; at the tender age of 15 he wrote his first operetta, titled »Die schöne Griechin« (The Beautiful Greek Woman), which he also conducted himself. An engagement as conductor for »Die Lustige Witwe« (The Merry Widow) led Steiner to London in 1906, where he spent many years as arranger and conductor, before fleeing to New York after the outbreak of World War I – Steiner, as an Austrian citizen, was seen as an enemy of the Empire back then. In New York Steiner orchestrated and conducted numerous Broadway Musicals and soon earned a good reputation.

In the Dream Factory

Finally Hollywood took notice of Steiner’s extraordinary talent. In those days the sound film had only been on the market for two years and Hollywood was on the lookout for composers to add music to the respective films. Max Steiner took the Musical Director post at the RKO Film Studios in Hollywood. Due to the small budgets for the Music Department, the recording sessions were very short, with no more than 10 musicians and microphones of inferior quality. As the idea for the film King Kong came up in 1933, a bold pioneer, namely the producer Merian Cooper, was the first to make the following statement: “Maxie, write the music for this film and don’t worry about the costs – I will pay for the orchestra”. And this investment ultimately paid off. It was Steiner’s colourful, symphonic orchestra music that gave the film its expressiveness and turned King Kong into a sensational success. Max Steiner turned into the pioneer and expert of the symphonic film music industry. He imported the methodology of Wagner, Strauss and Mahler from Vienna to Hollywood and integrated them into his epic scores. By developing innovative methods, he was the first to synchronise the visual aspects of the film with the actual music. He also established the “leitmotif” technique by allocating an individual theme tune to certain figures within the movie. By including specific regional themes he managed to magic the viewers into the geographic area of the film setting. Max Steiner initiated the era of dramatic film-scoring in Hollywood, took the lead among score composers and has been regarded as the »father of film music« ever since. Later Max Steiner joined Warner Brothers, where he also acted as Musical Director and composer. He is the creator of the fanfare that opens every movie produced by the studio. Max Steiner passed away on 28 December 1971 in Beverly Hills. He enjoyed – compared to all other composers of his genre – one of the longest and most successful careers in the film score industry of the 20th century and became a role model for all his successors. Max Steiner was honoured with a star on the »Hollywood Walk of Fame« and was immortalised in 2003 when his portrait was printed on a USA postage stamp.