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