Monothematicism and Fate in Dust Be My Destiny (1939)


  • Brent Yorgason Brigham Young University
  • Jeff Lyon Brigham Young University



Max Steiner, monothematicism, fate, classic Hollywood


In the classic Hollywood style, monothematic film scores are rare. Perhaps the most well known of these is David Raksin’s score for Laura (1944). Max Steiner’s score for the 1939 Warner Bros. film Dust Be My Destiny similarly uses a single focal theme. However, in this case, it is not obsession that drives this compositional choice but fate. Steiner portrays this fight against fate through the recurrence and ongoing transformation of the material from the main theme, which he transforms throughout to portray various and dramatic situations. In all, Steiner presents seventy-one different variants of the theme in the film. As Joe begins to realize that he can shape his own destiny, the theme develops alongside him, up to the final transformation in the closing credits.


Kalinak, Kathryn. 1992. Settling the score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Prendergast, Roy M. 1977. A neglected art: A critical study of music in films. New York: New York University Press.

Smith, Steven C. 2020. Music by Max Steiner: The epic life of Hollywood’s most influential composer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Weinzetl, Sarah Margaret. 2016. Motivic development in Max Steiner’s score for Gone with the Wind. PhD dissertation, California State University, Fullerton.


2022-12-02 — Updated on 2022-12-05

How to Cite

Yorgason, B., & Lyon, J. (2022). Monothematicism and Fate in Dust Be My Destiny (1939). Journal of Film Music, 10(2), 81–112.