Franz Waxman (1906-1967) - another member of the old guard

Franz Waxman photograph There are some interesting parallels between the careers of Franz Waxman, Dimitri Tiomkin and Max Steiner. They were all born and received their musical education far removed from the influence of Hollywood, in the case of Waxman (originally spelled "Wachsmann") this was in Germany, and all three started their Hollywood careers in the 1930s, between them sewing up many of the big films produced over the next two decades. Before leaving Germany one of Waxman's first Hollywood jobs was to orchestrate and conduct Frederick Hollander's score for "The Blue Angel" starring Marlene Dietrich. He moved to Paris first to escape the Nazis before settling in America. For more information and an interesting perspective on the composer, see the Franz Waxman overview written by historian Jeffrey Dane.

Franz Waxman - The Bride of Frankenstein soundtrack CD cover Waxman's early career included the horror movies "The Bride of Frankenstein" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", and acting as musical director to the Marx Brothers' vehicle "A Day at the Races". He really consolidated his reputation with the hugely successful "Rebecca", and like Tiomkin he went on to score more Hitchcock films including "Rear Window" and "Suspicion". He proved his versatility with a wide range of genres including war movies, romances and historical epics. As a good example of his style, "Rebecca" is deeply romantic but often leaning towards the impressionist movement with its characteristically busy woodwind section. In "Humoresque" Waxman adapted music from Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde for violin and orchestra. The story concerns a violinist played by John Garfield, though Isaac Stern provided the playing.

Franz Waxman - Taras Bulba soundtrack CD cover Franz Waxman had a strong interest in the work of contemporary Russian composers. He had earlier founded the Los Angeles Music Festival in 1947, and some years later in the spirit of a cultural exchange in 1961 he invited several Russian composers including Dmitri Shostakovich and Dmitry Kabalevsky to take part in an International Composers Conference as part of the festival. The following year Waxman was invited to the USSR where he met several eminent Russian musicians and conducted Soviet orchestras in concert in Moscow, Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and Kiev. With this interest in Russian music, Waxman was a good choice of composer for the film "Taras Bulba" (released that same year in 1962) based on a novel about a Cossack leader. The film starred Yul Brynner in the title role, yet for various reasons the movie flopped though the score is one of Waxman's best. The main theme often played as a concert piece is the Cossack March and there are many subsidiary themes and track styles. Clearly Waxman had absorbed many elements of the style of composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Katchaturian. Waxman's music is almost entirely original, though in a few places he quotes Kalinka the well-known Russian/Ukrainian Folk Song. The whole score has now been recorded by Tadlow in a special 2 CD edition, with a number of tracks not used in the film. It is highly recommended and available at

Waxman received many oscar nominations over the course of his career in film music, winning the main award in two successive years for "Sunset Boulevard" in 1950 and "A Place in the Sun" in 1951. There is an interesting story that when Alfred Newman wasn't nominated for an Oscar for his score to "The Robe", Waxman resigned from the Academy (AMPAS) and insisted that his on screen credit for "Demetrius and the Gladiators" stated that it was based on Newman's score for "The Robe".

Trivia: Some of Waxman's music for "The Bride of Frankenstein" was used in the "Flash Gordon" serials, though many other pieces of Classical and Film music were also borrowed for the serials.

Films by Franz Waxman:

    Franz Waxman - Rebecca soundtrack CD cover
  • Bride of Frakenstein - suitably dramatic but with sympathy for the characters, the theme for the Bride suggests beauty and wonder
  • A Day at the Races - music director to this Marx Brothers film
  • The Young in Heart
  • A Christmas Carol (1936)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Rebecca (1940) - an Oscar nomination for this classic, the tortured romantic music seems to foreshadow the work of Hitchcock's later partner Bernard Herrmann
  • Rear Window - Waxman composed some jazzy music to introduce this famous Hitchcock film, then all you hear is the sounds and music coming from the other appartments and from the street below; see David Shire for the remake of this Hitchcock classic
  • Objective, Burma!
  • Humoresque - starring John Garfield and Joan Crawford, and Waxman's adaptation of Wagner
  • The Philadelphia Story
  • Sunset Boulevard - winning the best music Oscar
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
  • Suspicion- another Hitchcock film, the music mostly romantic and light comedy but getting darker as the film progresses
  • Franz Waxman - Peyton Place soundtrack CD cover
  • Only the Valiant
  • A Place in the Sun - his second oscar
  • Demetrius and the Gladiators - incorporating music from Alfred Newman's "The Robe"
  • Elephant Walk
  • My Cousin Rachel
  • Prince Valiant - exciting swashbuckler music
  • Anne of the Indies - also in the swashbuckler style first popularised by Korngold
  • The Silver Chalice
  • The Virgin Queen
  • Peyton Place
  • Return to Peyton Place
  • The Spirit of St. Louis - there's some wonderful music in this score, take a look at these scenes building and test flying the plane The Spirit of St. Louis with James Stewart as Lindbergh
  • Run Silent, Run Deep
  • Cimarron (1960) - a Western
  • The Nun's Story
  • Taras Bulba - a busy energetic theme, something akin to the faster dances from Katchaturian's ballet music

TV music by Franz Waxman:

Franz Waxman didn't write a huge amount of music for TV, but his "Peyton Place" film theme was used on the TV Series spin-off, and he wrote occasional episodes from series in the 60s.

  • Peyton Place - the same waltz-like theme was used for the movie and TV series
  • The Time Tunnel
  • The Twilight Zone - the episode "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" from Season 1 (when the theme was provided by Bernard Herrmann), the episode appropriately looked back to the Golden Age of Cinema
  • The Men from Shiloh
  • Gunsmoke
  • The Fugitive

Franz Waxman Recommendations:

In addition to Franz Waxman's themes appearing on many compilation CDs, the following soundtrack albums are available and there is a Franz Waxman web-site at