December 24, 1906 - February 24, 1967
born in Königshütte, Upper Silesia, Germany, composed during the Modern period
Franz Waxman (Wachsmann) was one of the most prolific and respected twentieth century composers of film music. He also produced a large output of concert music, including orchestral, choral, chamber, and instrumental works. In addition, Waxman was a noted conductor and impresario.
Franz Waxman was born in Konigshutte, Germany (now Chorzow, Poland), the last of six children. Persuaded to prepare for a career in banking by his industrialist father, young Franz, who had studied piano from the age of seven, reluctantly worked as a teller for over two years. After leaving his banking career, he began advanced studies in piano and composition, first in Dresden, then in Berlin. He earned money as a pianist performing in nightclubs and with jazz ensembles. He began doing band arrangements while working with the Weintraub Syncopaters and eventually started doing orchestral arrangements for filmmakers, his first major effort being Frederick Hollander's score for the 1930 film Blue Angel. His first original film score was Kabinett de Dr. Larifari (1930) and by the end of 1933, he had 11 scores to his credit. The 1934 production of Fritz Lang's Liliom was his first major triumph. Lang engaged Waxman to travel to the United States with him to do arrangements for the 1934 film version of Jerome Kern's Music in the Air. Waxman's first original score of the 144 he would do in Hollywood was for the 1935 film The Bride of Frankenstein. That same year, he signed a two-year contract with Universal Pictures to both compose scores and act as the studio's music department director. His efforts during this period include The Invisible Ray (1936) and Fritz Lang's Fury (1936). In 1937, MGM signed Waxman to a seven-year contract, initiating a relationship that would yield scores for such major efforts as Captains Courageous (1937), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), Suspicion (1941), and Woman of the Year (1942). Waxman's services were occasionally subcontracted to other filmmakers during this period, twice resulting in Academy Award nominations for him, The Young in Heart (1938) and Rebecca (1940), both for David O. Selznick. Meanwhile, Waxman was also turning out scores for the concert stage, most notably the Souvenirs de Paris Waltzes (1939) and the suite from Rebecca (1940). His next studio affiliation came in 1943 with Warner Bros., which also resulted in numerous major scores, including Mr. Skeffington (1944), and Objective, Burma! (1945). Waxman established the Los Angeles International Music Festival in 1947, which premiered works by Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, and many other major composers. He also worked as conductor and administered many of the festival's events. Waxman's now-popular Carmen Fantasie (1947), written for Humoresque (with Isaac Stern brilliantly captured on the soundtrack), was recorded for RCA by Jascha Heifetz. In 1950 and 1951, Waxman won Academy Awards for Best Film Score for Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun, respectively, becoming the first composer to win in successive years. More famous scores followed in the decade ahead, including those for Prince Valiant (1954), The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), The Nun's Story (1959), and Taras Bulba (1962). He continued turning out fine orchestral works too, like Reminiscences (1953) and Ruth (1960). Beginning in the late 1950s, Waxman wrote music for numerous well-known television series, including The Twilight Zone (1959), The Fugitive (1963), and Peyton Place (1964). Waxman remained active composing film scores and concert music in his last years. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi