An Austrian in Hollywood

Self-Plagiarism and the “Love Theme” in Max Steiner’s Music for Now, Voyager and Mildred Pierce


  • Charles Francis Leinberger The University of Texas at El Paso



leitmotifs, key relationships, self-plagiarism, love theme


When interviewed about film music, John Williams is often quick to credit Max Steiner as the originator of the leitmotif technique in film music. Steiner brought with him to the U.S. the compositional techniques he learned as a child prodigy in Europe, including the leitmotif technique. This paper will discuss Steiner’s use of leitmotifs in his Academy Award winning score to the 1942 Warner Bros. film Now, Voyager. Film musicologists disagree on the relevance of themes being heard in different keys throughout a film score and their possible effect on the audience. I intend to demonstrate that, although the significance of these key relationships may only exist on a subconscious level, they do contribute in a meaningful way to the viewing/listening experience. To demonstrate this, I will use examples of “Charlotte’s Theme,” also known as the “Love Theme,” which appears in various keys throughout the film. The key relationships are clearly intentional and well thought out by Steiner. This theme, which is almost always in triple meter, was recorded in 1943 by Allen Miller and his Orchestra as a pop tune, in quadruple meter, with the title “It Can’t Be Wrong.” Steiner plagiarizes himself when this instrumental version is heard as source music in the 1945 Warner Bros. film Mildred Pierce. Vocal versions, including one recorded by Frank Sinatra, include lyrics by Kim Gannon. This version was also sung in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Killing Game, Part 1.”


Daubney, Kate. 2001. Max Steiner’s Now, Voyager: A film score guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Gorbman, Claudia. 1987. Unheard melodies: Narrative film music. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Leinberger, Charles Francis. 1996. An Austrian in Hollywood: Leitmotifs, thematic transformation, and key relationships in Max Steiner’s 1942 film score, Now, Voyager. PhD dissertation, University of Arizona.

———. 2002. “Thematic variations and key relationships: Charlotte’s Theme in Max Steiner’s score for Now, Voyager.” Journal of Film Music 1, no. 1: 63-77.

———. 2002. Review of Kate Daubney’s Max Steiner’s Now, Voyager: A film score guide. Journal of Film Music 1, no. 1: 113-15.



How to Cite

Leinberger, C. F. (2021). An Austrian in Hollywood: Self-Plagiarism and the “Love Theme” in Max Steiner’s Music for Now, Voyager and Mildred Pierce. Journal of Film Music.