Immigrants and the Golden Age of Hollywood

by Matthew Kraemer, Music Director

With our opening concert just around the corner, I want to share some thoughts about our program. The advent of talking movies in the late 1920’s opened fascinating possibilities for movie makers. The integration of a full musical score was one such critical technological advancement.  Music built continuity and united the visual elements, creating atmosphere and enhancing the emotional color within a film. Major studios such as MGM, Fox, Columbia, and Warner Brothers maintained extravagant and formidable music departments headed by influential music directors. At the same time, the instability of revolutionary Russia and the horror of the Nazi regime in Europe benefited the cultural landscape of the United States as artists fled to the west. Many of them discovered sanctuary and lucrative opportunity for their talents in Hollywood.

The contributions of Miklos Rozsa, Franz Waxman, Erich Korngold, and others cannot be overstated. The hundreds of film scores they created during Hollywood’s Golden Age were instrumental in the formation of a Hollywood sound, accompanying several genres of film. Many of these composers maintained a catalogue of serious compositions, including symphonies, concertos, and operas.

For Franz Waxman, a composer of the late romantic German school, music was all-consuming.  Composer of The Bride of Frankenstein, Sunset Boulevard, and A Place in the Sun, Waxman’s technique, taste, and conception of film scoring were almost above reproach. Several of Miklos Rozsa’s works for the concert hall remain as popular as his film scores. The Violin Concerto, Theme, Variations, and Finale, and the ballet Hungaria are superbly crafted works, as are his scores for blockbusters such as Ben-Hur, El Cid, and Spellbound.  A child prodigy hailed as a genius by Strauss, Mahler, and Puccini and by others as the next Mozart, Erich Korngold holds a special place in the history of film music. During his 12-year career in Hollywood, he worked under ideal conditions for several expensive, monumental films. Korngold conceived of film as a form of opera, composing long lines of continuous music which often surge into pauses in dialogue. Scores for Captain Blood, The Seahawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood, King’s Row, and Anthony Adverse are among the finest contributions to film scoring from a prodigiously gifted composer of symphonies, concertos, operas, and chamber music.

Fortunately, the cultural influx into America did not pertain exclusively to composers of film music. Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Kurt Weill, Otto Klemperer, Jascha Heifetz, and Irving Berlin, in addition to the countless scientists, mathematicians, artists, and intellectuals made their way to the United States. Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America pays tribute to the roughly 12 million immigrants who passed through the gates of Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954. Boyer selected seven spoken texts from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, weaving their compelling through a rich and varied tapestry of music before concluding with a reading of Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus.

In following with the theme of our opening concert, we hope you’ll share your family’s immigration story. Go to for the form.

Thank you for reading. Until next month…



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