Max Steiner was a Austrian composer of music for theatre productions and films. He later became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Trained by the great classical music composers Brahms and Mahler, he was one of the first composers who primarily wrote music for motion pictures, and as such is often referred to as “the father of film music”. Along with such composers as Franz Waxman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman and Miklós Rózsa, Steiner played a major part in creating the tradition of writing music for films.
Steiner composed hundreds of film scores, including The Informer, Now, Voyager, and Since You Went Away, all of which won him Academy Awards. He was nominated for the Academy Award a total of twenty six times, a record surpassed only by Alfred Newman and John Williams for the most nominations received by a composer. Three of his scores were also nominated at a time when composers were not eligible to be nominated in the Original Score category.
Steiner was one of the best-known composers in Hollywood, and is widely regarded today as one of the greatest film score composers in the history of cinema. He was a frequent collaborator with some of the most famous film directors in history, including John Ford and William Wyler. Besides his Oscar-winning scores, some of Steiner’s popular works include King Kong, Little Women, Jezebel, Casablanca, and the film score for which he is possibly best known, Gone with the Wind. Despite being one of the most popular film soundtracks ever written, Gone with the Wind failed to win an Oscar for him.
Steiner was born as Maximilian Raoul Steiner in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. Steiner later claimed that he was given, and rejected, the name Walter, but there is no evidence of this in his birth register, held at the Jewish community of Vienna. Later in life he purportedly discovered a half-brother named James Owen, with whom he co-wrote the song “Theme from A Summer Place”. His paternal grandfather was Maximilian Steiner, the influential manager of Vienna’s Theater an der Wien; his father was Gabor Steiner, Viennese impresario and carnival and exposition manager, responsible for the Ferris wheel in the Prater that would become the setting for a key scene of the film The Third Man ; his godfather was the composer Richard Strauss.