Max Steiner’s Jewish Identity and Score to Symphony of Six Million (1932)


  • Aaron Fruchtman California State University, Long Beach



Max Steiner, film composer, Symphony of Six Million, Jewish composer


Max Steiner was one of a significant group of Jewish composers who flourished during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Steiner’s Jewish heritage is rarely discussed in connection with his film music. However, his original underscore for Symphony of Six Million (1932) is revealing. In this essay, I consider how Steiner dealt with Jewish identity when presenting an “insider’s view” of the Lower East Side to a mainstream American audience. Steiner may have used Jewish musical materials for “local color” in a manner typical of evocations of musical exoticism in Hollywood. While aspects of this score border on melodramatic pastiche, a searching analysis reveals that Steiner drew from Jewish sacred and secular musical materials to create a trenchant, intertextual context. Steiner’s relationship to his Jewish identity is enigmatic. The Steiner family envisioned themselves as completely assimilated and thoroughly Viennese. Even so, one could not help but have a Jewish identity in fin de siècle Vienna. Steiner’s words, music, and philanthropy reveal a complex Jewish identity.

Author Biography

Aaron Fruchtman, California State University, Long Beach

Aaron Fruchtman is a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of California, Riverside. Aaron earned a Bachelor of Music degree in composition from the Berklee College of Music, an Advanced Studies Certificate in Music for Motion Pictures and Television from the University of Southern California, and a Master of Music degree in composition from UC, Riverside. His dissertation examines underscores of Jewish-themed films and their composers’ social and cultural world in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Aaron has presented papers at numerous conferences including the national meeting of the American Musicological Society, NYU’s Music and the Moving Image, Youngstown State University’s Jewish Music and Identity, and UCLA’s Thinking Beyond the Canon.


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How to Cite

Fruchtman, A. (2022). Max Steiner’s Jewish Identity and Score to Symphony of Six Million (1932). Journal of Film Music, 9(1-2), 80–93.