A Composer's Notes: Remembering Miklós Rózsa - by Jeffrey Dane

A Composer's Notes: Remembering Miklos Rozsa - by Jeffrey Dane, book cover This year (2007) marks the centenary of the birth of Miklós Rózsa, and Jeffrey Dane has published an interesting book to coincide with this particular anniversary. Dane knew Rozsa well, having met him on several occasions and corrpesponded with the composer over a period of more than 20 years. This considerable private correspondence and Dane's various meetings with the composer serve as the core of the book and provides a unique insight into the man and his thoughts about music and how it should be approached. We are pleased to be able to include here on mfiles some extracts and photographic material from the book to give a flavour of its fascinating content. Further information about the book can be found at this link on Amazon.com.

Miklos Rozsa (right) and Jeffrey Dane (left) The image on the left shows the cover of the book with a photograph of Miklos Rozsa. The photograph on the right was taken in New York in mid-October 1978 and shows the author, Jeffrey Dane (left), sitting with the composer. A small section of an LP record album, "More Music From Ben-Hur" (one of Rozsa's most famous film scores), can be seen behind the composer. Throughout this web-page, you can click on any of the graphic images to view them in larger size in a separate window. There follow two extracts from the book, including a facsimile of one of Rozsa's letters to the author, other material written by hand by the composer and mentioned within these extracts, and the book's Table of Contents.

Extract 1

2936 Montcalm Ave.
Hollywood, California 90046

January 24th 1984

Dear Jeffrey,

Thank you for your interesting letter and the lovely photos of your home. It looks cozy and I see that the piano and record-player occupy an important part of it. Schonberg's Brahms article is also interesting. Tchaikowsky, Wagner, Wolf, Bruckner didn't like his music, but we do. I can well understand that he was secretive about his sketches and the way a work developed. Beethoven would have been embarrassed if he would have known that future generations analyse his battles with his musical material and see with how much difficulties he has arrived to the final version of a theme. When I finish a work, I usually throw out every sketch because only the finished product matters. I just finished a Flute Sonata. The sketches are still on my desk and I was just about getting rid of them, when your letter arrived. Well, I make an exception and let you have them -- maybe you would like to own them. I am also sending you a Xerox copy of the finished piece, that you can see how I have arrived to it. It is of course still unpublished and unrecorded, so you are the first one to see it.

Let us hope that we shall meet in Pittsburgh!

With kindest regards, also to your wife,

I am


Miklós Rózsa

I had sent the composer a copy of a feature article on Brahms written for the Magazine section of The New York Times by its senior music critic, the late Harold C. Schonberg.

Dr. Rózsa was of course quite correct. -- Brahms was secretive not only about the evolution of his own works in progress, but even in his letters. A peculiar Brahmsian idiosyncracy is that his prose is often almost cryptic, as though he were trying to conceal his meaning rather than clarify it. (Tchaikowsky, using some very explicit language, had some choice things to say about Brahms' music). If Beethoven "would have been embarrassed," it might be mainly for the discomfiting crudity of his initial musical ideas, some of which are indeed embarrasingly coarse.

"I can well understand that he [Brahms] was secretive about his sketches and the way a work developed." -- This was a reference to the high, free-standing console desk Brahms had, at which he could stand while composing. A photo of Brahms sitting in his library beside this very desk appeared in the Schonberg article. The lecturn-like desk, now in the Brahms Memorial Room at the Haydn Museum in Vienna, had a hinged lid that could be raised, with a receptacle beneath it. Brahms' sense of privacy was such that when he heard a knock at the door of his Karlsgasse 4 apartment, he'd lift the desk's lid, place into the bin the score on which he was working, close the lid -- and then answer the door.

I arrived home one day to find on my desk a large envelope. . . [it] contained his letter quoted above, and a gift from him -- a gift small in physical size but enormous in its substance and significance for me: the manuscript draft of Miklós Rózsa's Sonata for solo flute, op.39. It records the dates of composition of each of the work's three movements: the first, Allegro risoluto, was completed on November 8th, 1983; the second, Andante quasi pastorale, on November 25th; and the third, Vivo e giocoso, on Beethoven's birthday, December 16th.

Extract 2

A Visit With Miklós Rózsa -- Los Angeles, California

The numerous occasions on which I had the pleasure, the honor, of spending time with Miklós Rózsa represent significant moments for me. I'd have been a different person if I hadn't come to know Leonard Bernstein, and then to study his work. With Rózsa, however, I knew his work for years before I finally got the opportunity to meet the man himself in 1972, for the first time. Subsequent occasions on which I met him are numerous, but I relate here this one because it was the last time I saw him.

In 1988 I traveled to California for the rehearsals and West Coast USA premiére in Los Angeles of Rózsa's Viola Concerto. I was there for eight days (for a New Yorker it's strange to walk about outdoors in shirtsleeves in January), and twice during that week Dr. Rózsa invited me to his home. Over the years countless people attended his concerts and many had the pleasure of personally making his acquaintance -- but only the select have been privileged to enter the sanctuary of Rózsa's magnificent home. I'm very thankful I'm one of them.

Dr. Rózsa had asked me to phone him when I arrived in Los Angeles. When I called, the very first thing he said to me was, "The son of a b**** gave an interview -- in which he compared my concerto to the music of Bartok and Hindemith!" (Dr. Rózsa was, I soon learned, referring to an individual who was . . . associated with the concerto). It seems I was the first person to speak with Dr. Rózsa after he had read that interview, the effects of which were still perceptible in his mind, palpable in his voice, and which explains his vivid reaction and explicit but understandable choice of language. (It was the only time I ever heard him use a "dirty" word). I envisioned an interesting headline in the next issue of the local papers had Dr. Rózsa been thirty years younger and in better health. Tranquility soon returned and he invited me to his house, and added, "But I can't offer you dinner this time." I assured him that it was only a visit I wanted, not his food, and that the privilege of spending some time with him would be all I'd ask. I expected nothing and I asked for little, but everyone has the right to hope. I was ultimately graced with a good deal more than what I or anyone might have expected.

Dr. Rózsa was unable to attend any of the rehearsals but he was at the first performance of the concerto, held on Thursday evening, January 14th, 1988, at the Los Angeles Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (for years the site of the Academy Award ceremonies). André Previn conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist.

. . . During the intermission, I was talking with Dr. Rózsa. A grey-haired, distinguished-looking bespectacled man in a powder-blue blazer approached the composer and spoke with him about the concerto. The composer interrupted the gentleman for a moment, looked at me, and, pointing to the man, said to me, "Jeffrey, meet David Raksin."

On my first visit to the Rózsa home . . . I had what was a totally "private audience" with the composer for several hours. I also had a repeat-performance of this kind of experience the following year in Michigan, when a man named Elmer Bernstein invited me for what turned out to be a chat between the two of us in his hotel suite for the better part of an hour, and then for dinner the following evening with him and his wife, Eve.

Dr. Rózsa served me tea & cookies. I had already been told by his son, Nicholas (who had given me driving directions for my taxi to the Rózsa home) that this was a long-standing tradition in the Rózsa household, and since then I've heard the same thing from a number of different sources, independently of each other, who had the same experience when visiting the composer at his home. We're creatures of habit. Dr. Rózsa was as loyal to his tea & cookies tradition for his guests as he was to imitative writing, one of his favorite compositional tools.

The cups & saucers were Wedgwood -- real antique Wedgwood -- and the teapot was evidently solid silver. (The lid was loose and the composer told me to be very careful when pouring). The spoons, also silver, seemed to have weighed a pound each and I was convinced that had I dropped one on my foot I'd have broken a toe. The thought occurred to me at the time that the beauty and worth of the teapot and the heft of the spoons corresponded fittingly to the substance of the composer's music. We know from his memoirs that he had his family with him while he was in Spain during the composition of the score for El Cid -- but I later had the pleasure of hearing from his daughter, Juliet, who told me that the tea service was purchased there at that time.

Near the entrance to his living room I saw the official Vatican document he had received, signed by Pope John Paul in honor of the composer's 80th birthday the year before. I examined the large book containing the congratulatory letters (most of them hand-written) which he had received in that milestone year from dozens of people, including, to name but two, Gregory Peck and Elmer Bernstein. I held and examined his Oscars, I sat in the very chair in which he was photographed, holding & reading a score, for the RCA LP album [LSC-2802] of the first recording of the Notturno Ungherese, on which he conducted the RCA Italiana Orchestra; that photo is one of the best I've ever seen of him and the image seems to capture his character.

He sent me upstairs -- the house is built on five levels around a central spiral staircase -- where I met Mrs. Rozsa briefly. She told me I had given her a start because for an instant she thought I was her brother. Visiting her at that moment was Mrs. Abraham Marcus, widow of Dr. Rózsa's long-time friend and lawyer.

Dr. Rózsa also took me into that place in his home which interested me more than any other: his studio, his sanctum sanctorum, where I saw, among myriad other delectables, his Bechstein piano. The connection between Rózsa and his fellow-countryman Franz Liszt wasn't just one of nationality: the piano in Liszt's house in Weimar, Germany, is also a Bechstein -- a massive concert grand -- on view there even today.

Conspicuous in his studio was an electronic enlarger, similar in appearance, function and purpose to the type of apparatus used to keep score in a bowling alley. It was the composer's now seriously failing eyesight that necessitated the acquisition of this equipment, which enabled him to see the music he was writing down. By its use he endowed us with at least one more work for solo instrument.

The film scores, all bound, were in plain view, but scattered helter-skelter atop a large credenza. The whereabouts of his original manuscripts of his abstract (i.e., non-film) music, however, were not as evident. When I asked him where he kept them, he pointed to a file cabinet in a corner of the studio. I felt it was very apt that his film scores, more conventional than his orchestral, piano, chamber and other works intended for recital or concert performance, were more "accessible" even here in the composer's own studio, than his orchestral and other scores, which he kept hidden from view. If only there had been more time, I'd have asked to see, even if only briefly, his holograph score of the Notturno Ungherese, one of my favorites among all his works.

His studio was reached through a long, narrow hallway. It seemed every square foot of wall space was lined with autograph letters of the composers, mounted in special frames so that when turned around the overside of each letter could also be read. The only major composers not represented, he told me, were Bach and Beethoven. Name any other representative composer and at least one example of his letterhand could be found there. Dr. Rózsa even had a letter written by Robert Schumann's mother. Brahms, Wagner, Chopin, Liszt -- name them, and there they were.

As a music historian, researcher, author, and charter member of the Miklós Rózsa Society I've learned and remembered many things during the years. One of them is the pride in life and fulfillment in living that music inspires in many of us. Miklós Rózsa believed in this concept, and in me his music reinforces these sentiments. I've been called by some a real idealist and by others an ideal realist. Both views have merit.

What I will never forget is what Dr. Rózsa said to me, before I left his home on that memorable day: "Thank you for coming to see me. May God bless you, Jeffrey."

Indeed He has.


Letter from Miklos Rozsa to Jeffrey Dane, page 1 Letter from Miklos Rozsa to Jeffrey Dane, page 2

The 2-page letter of January 24, 1984 from Miklos Rozsa, in which he offers the author one of his manuscripts.

Title page of Sonata for Solo Flute Brahms beside his console desk

The title-page of the published Sonata for Solo Flute, op.39, with the composer's personal inscription to the author.

Brahms beside his console desk, as described in the text above.

Table of Contents

A Composer's Notes: Remembering Miklos Rozsa - by Jeffrey Dane, book cover

Table of Contents
Author’s Preface
Film Music: Observations and Comments
A Note On The Correspondence
Notes and Letters, 1968 -- 1978
Notes and Letters, 1979 -- 1983
Notes and Letters, 1984 -- 1988
Pittsburgh Chronicle -- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Prelude
- Thursday, May 3rd
- A Conversation With Miklós Rózsa
- Thursday Evening
- Friday Morning Rehearsal
- Friday Evening
- Concert Time: The Sound of Music
- Saturday Morning
- Saturday Afternoon
- Saturday Evening Performance
- A Post-Concert Gathering
- Coda
- Sunday Afternoon
- Epilogue
Two Rózsa colleagues:
Franz Waxman
Elmer Bernstein
A Visit With Miklós Rózsa -- Los Angeles, California
A Memorial Tribute

Above are the Front Cover and Table of Contents of the book. Further details and pricing can be found on Amazon.com

Also by Jeffrey Dane is the mfiles article A visit with Miklos Rozsa where the author describes his meetings with the composer. The article is illustrated with a number of photos (with thanks to Scott Dawes) of Miklos Rozsa and his home in the Hollywood Hills.