Max Steiner Corner at JB

Max Steiner Corner

This is a special department devoted to the great film composer Max Steiner, whom I (and a lot of others!) regard as a particular favorite. Between 1929 and 1964, literally hundreds of films, classics and potboilers alike, were elevated by Steiner’s music—richly varied, sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful, always compelling and evocative. I have a special affection for Steiner’s scores of the 1930s, a decade during which he essentially defined the art of musical scoring for sound films and created some of that medium’s most enduring works.

We’ve all enjoyed Steiner’s music while watching the films; but today, dedicated aficionados have the additional opportunity to hear his music out of context—separated from the films themselves, isolated from dialogue and sound effects. To one who already loves the films and the music, the chance to savor the music by itself is a luxury that enriches both. Several record labels have offered recordings of Steiner scores, but I want to call particular attention to two of those labels, both operated by friends of mine.

BYU Film Music Archives is the brainchild of James D’Arc, the Director of Special Collections at BYU. In his role at the university, Jim presides over a huge Max Steiner collection which includes not only a wealth of written music, but also hundreds of reference acetates—the discs recorded on the sound stage while Steiner was conducting studio orchestras for the film soundtracks. Newly remastered and enhanced with digital noise reduction by audio wizard Ray Faiola, these priceless recordings have been used to create an outstanding series of CDs. They offer us the unparalleled opportunity to hear Steiner’s own original recordings of his music, in their purest form.

Tribute Film Classics offers a golden opportunity of a different kind: new, state-of-the-art digital recordings of classic scores by Steiner and other composers. Tribute consists of John Morgan and William and Anna Stromberg, all trained musicologists and devoted film music enthusiasts. Their process begins with John’s painstaking reconstructions of Steiner’s original arrangements, often working from surviving written materials that are fragmentary at best. Some of his reconstructions have resurrected scores for which no acetates have survived, as well as cues that were composed for a particular film and then not used. The music is then recorded by a full orchestra under the brilliant direction of Bill Stromberg.

Clicking on any of these links will take you to a site where the disc can be ordered. There you’ll see that these same labels have also recorded CDs of later scores, and of scores by other composers. Needless to say, those recordings are highly recommended too. But this is my website, and I’m choosing to highlight the 1930s scores of Max Steiner—in my opinion, the finest music ever written for sound films.