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For the pornographic actor with the pseudonym Max Steiner, see Max Hardcore. Austrian-born American music composer for theatre and films, as well as a conductor. He was a child prodigy who conducted his first operetta when he was twelve and became a full-time professional, either composing, arranging, or conducting, when he was fifteen. Steiner worked in England, then Broadway, and in 1929 he moved to Hollywood, where he became one of the first composers to write music scores for films. Steiner composed over 300 film scores with RKO Pictures and Warner Bros. He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, which he won for his score for Life with Father.
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Max Steiner was born on May 10, 1888, in Austria-Hungary, as the only child in a wealthy business and theatrical family of Jewish heritage. His godfather was the composer Richard Strauss who strongly influenced Steiner’s future work. Steiner often credited his family for inspiring his early musical abilities. As early as six years old, Steiner was taking three or four piano lessons a week, yet often became bored of the lessons. Because of this, he would practice improvising on his own, his father encouraging him to write his music down. In his youth, he began his composing career through his work on marches for regimental bands and hit songs for a show put on by his father.
His parents sent Steiner to the Vienna University of Technology, but he expressed little interest in scholastic subjects. He studied various instruments including piano, organ, violin, double bass, and trumpet. His preferred and best instrument was the piano, but he acknowledged the importance of being familiar with what the other instruments could do. He also had courses in harmony, counterpoint, and composition. Along with Mahler and Fuchs, he cited his teachers as Felix Weingartner and Edmund Eysler. The music of Edmund Eysler was an early influence in the pieces of Max Steiner. However, one of his first introductions to operetta’s was by Franz Lehár who worked for a time as a military bandmaster for Steiner’s father’s theatre.
Steiner paid tribute to Lehár through an operetta modeled after Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe which Steiner staged in 1907 in Vienna. Eysler was well-known for his operettas though as critiqued by Richard Traubner, the libretti were poor, with a fairly simple style, the music often relying too heavily on the Viennese waltz style. As a result, when Steiner started writing pieces for the theater, he was interested in writing libretto as his teacher had, but had minimal success. According to author of Max Steiner’s “Now Voyager” Kate Daubney, Steiner may also have been influenced by Felix Weingartner who conducted the Vienna Opera from 1908 to 1911. Although he took composition classes from Weingartner, as a young boy, Steiner always wanted to be a great conductor. Between 1907 and 1914, Steiner traveled between Britain and Europe to work on theatrical productions. Steiner first entered the world of professional music when he was fifteen.