Max Steiner was born in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt in the Hotel Nordbahn and came from a wealthy theatre dynasty that was friends with many composers. His grandfather Maximilian Steiner was, among other things, director at the Theater an der Wien, and his father Gabor Steiner also worked as a theatre director in Vienna. Growing up with a rich heritage of operas and symphonies, Steiner developed into a musical prodigy; at the age of 13 he graduated from the Imperial Academy of Music, completed the course in one year and received the Emperor’s Gold Medal. By the age of 14 he was already a composer and by 16 a conductor. In 1905 Steiner moved from Austria to England, where he worked as a conductor at His Majesty’s Theatre until 1914./strong>
At the outbreak of the First World War, he emigrated to America, where he became involved with Broadway musicals and operettas. One of his most successful jobs in America was composing the music for the screening of the silent film The Bondman (1915); he became a friend of William Fox, the film’s producer, giving Steiner early access to the Hollywood that was to occupy him so profitably in later years. In 1929 he was brought to the fledgling RKO Radio Studios to direct the film version of Ziegfeld’s « Rio Rita » (1929). Steiner, who was always convinced of his talents, was realistic enough to understand that he was hired by RKO because he cost only a tenth of what someone like Leopold Stokowski would charge. During his time at RKO, he developed his theory that music should be a function of the dramatic content of a film and not just background filler.
His scores for films such as Symphony of Six Million (1932), The Informer (1935) and especially King Kong (1933) are carefully integrated works that comment on the visual images, enhance the action and heighten the dramatic effect. While Steiner’s critics referred to his compositional technique as « Mickey Mousing » (in reference to the music in animated films), producers, directors and stars relied on Steiner to make a good film better and a great film greater. After 111 films at RKO, Steiner was hired by David O. Selznick, who commissioned the composer to score Gone with the Wind (1939). Practically 75 per cent of this 221-minute epic required some kind of music, and Steiner rose to the task with a work many consider his best. One concept refined in Gone with the Wind was to give each important character their own musical motif – quite an undertaking considering how many speaking parts there were in the film. It was at this time that Steiner began working at Warner Bros. where he composed the studio’s famous opening logo fanfare and also wrote evocative music for classics such as « Now Voyager » (1942), « Casablanca » (1942) and « Mildred Pierce » (1945).
En tant qu’homme fier et vaniteux, Steiner était souvent pris à partie par ses collègues compositeurs, mais lors de la remise des Oscars, c’était généralement Steiner qui riait en dernier. Il est resté actif jusqu’en 1965, contribuant à la musique de The Caine Mutiny (1954), The Searchers (1955), A Summer Place (1959) et de nombreux autres films. (Source : Toute la musique / Forum autrichien)