Franz Waxman

Franz Waxman in Los Angeles
Photo courtesy of John Waxman

was born in Königshütte, Upper Silesia (now Chorzow, in Poland).  He studied at the Dresden Conservatory (now the University of Music Carl Maria von Weber) in 1926, and continued his studies in Berlin.  There he was hired by Erich Pommer to work for UFA, the Berlin film studios, where his first job was orchestrating Frederick Hollander's score and songs for the Marlene Dietrich film The Blue Angel.

When the Nazis took over, work became impossible.  Beaten up on the street by Nazi thugs, he fled  -  via Paris  -  to the United States in 1934.  Los Angeles was at that time the international center of new musical thought, the city that had attracted Stravinsky and Schoenberg to itself.

Over the next 32 years Waxman composed 144 film scores, was nominated for the Oscar 10 times and was the first composer ever to win the Academy Award two years in a row: 1950 for Sunset Blvd. and 1951 for A Place in the Sun.  His Hitchcock scores, including Rebecca (1940) and Rear Window (1954) made him known throughout the world.

Meanwhile Waxman never ceased composing for the concert stage.  Among the most important works in this „other“ genre are his oratorio Joshua, the dramatic song cycle The Song of Terezin, the Overture for Trumpet and Orchestra and the legendary Carmen Fantasie.  The latter work was written as part of the score for Humoresque in 1946.  Virtuoso Jascha Heifetz was so enthusiastic that he immediately took the Fantasie into his repertoire, and made a recording of it for RCA.  Since then it has entered the standard repertory of the world’s virtuosi.

The Sinfonietta for String Orchestra and Timpani was commissioned by the Zurich Radio in 1955.  Waxman’s score was written on the high seas, during the crossing from New York to Naples on the Christoforo Columbo.  The composer noted that upon his arrival in Zurich, the orchestral parts had to be copied within 24 hours, when rehearsals began.  The work obtained an international success.  It caused a furor in Moscow in March 1962, when the orchestra played the work under the baton of its composer and the cheering audience demanded that the whole work be encored.

Waxman died in Los Angeles in 1967.