Theme Songs without Words
Max Steiner and the Big Theme
Keywords:Max Steiner, theme songs, underscoring, photoplay music, background music
When Max Steiner arrived at RKO Studios in late December 1929, he came as a seasoned Broadway conductor and arranger to work on musicals. Applying the art and craft of song arranging from musical comedies on the Broadway stage to so-called “theme songs” that were sung in dramatic films in the early talkies, he developed what came to be known as “the big theme” in Hollywood Golden Age film scoring parlance in which a song-like theme was featured instrumentally as background music rather than sung on screen. In conjunction with this practice, Steiner and his Hollywood cohorts continued and adapted the existing dramatic techniques of silent film accompaniment to “talking pictures,” which, because of music playing under dialog, was given the name “underscoring.”
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