Orchestra Seattle | Seattle Chamber Singers
George Shangrow, music director
PO Box 15825
Seattle, WA 98115


Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 24

Rózsa was born April 18, 1907 in Budapest and died July 27, 1995 in Los Angeles. He composed his violin concerto during the summer of 1953 at Rapallo, Italy, revising it over the course of the next two years in consultation with Jascha Heifetz, who gave the premiere on January 15, 1956 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Walter Hendl. In addition to solo violin the concerto calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta and strings.

Along with Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa was one of the towering musical giants of Hollywood's Golden Age. Like Korngold and Waxman, Rózsa was born and trained in Europe. He began scoring films in England in 1935, relocating to the United States in 1939 with his employer (and fellow Hungarian) Alexander Korda.

Rózsa provided scores for such diverse films as Billy Wilder's film noir masterpiece Double Indemnity (1944), Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary (1949), and William Wyler's epic Ben-Hur (1959), as well as more than one hundred others, but throughout the composer's Hungarian roots were evident.

While Rózsa music for the concert hall never achieved the same success as his film scores during his lifetime, the composer always managed to set aside time to devote to "serious" composition. In fact, his contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer provided three months of unpaid vacation each summer for that purpose.

It was on one such vacation during the summer of 1953 that Rózsa began work on a concerto for the famous violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz. Through a mutual acquaintance Heifetz had agreed to consider playing the piece, and suggested that Rózsa write a first movement and show it to him upon Rózsa's return from Italy. During the composer's stay in Rapallo (where Sibelius wrote his Symphony No. 2) inspiration struck and Rózsa composed an entire three-movement concerto in six weeks.

Upon returning to California, Rózsa sent the score to Heifetz. The violinist liked the concerto but requested that he be allowed to work with the composer to suggest some alterations. Rózsa of course acquiesced, but became alarmed when he heard nothing for six months. Finally Heifetz called and suggested a meeting, and the pair worked on revisions to the concerto over the course of the next several months. Finally Heifetz agreed to perform the work, giving the premiere in early 1956 with the Dallas Symphony, with whom he recorded the concerto for RCA a short time later.

Several years afterward, the film director Billy Wilder approached Rózsa at a party and asked if he could have another copy of the Heifetz recording, as he had worn out his only copy. Wilder had become so enamored of the piece that he had been inspired to write the screenplay for a film that would become The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The opening movement of Rózsa's concerto had reminded the director of the great violin-playing detective, the slow movement of a beautiful German spy, and the breakneck finale of the Loch Ness monster, all elements that Wilder was able to incorporate into his screenplay. When the film was made, Rózsa was of course asked to provide the music, and he was able to adapt portions of the violin concerto for the film's score.

© 2002 Jeff Eldridge


Last performance:

Other works
on this program:


Rózsa links:
Rózsa Society
Rózsa's IMDb entry

Good CDs:

The classic Heifetz recording of the Rózsa concerto, which also includes works of Korngold and Waxman.


Robert McDuffie's outstanding new recording of the Rózsa concerto, coupled with the composer's cello concerto.


Good books:

Rózsa's autobiography, currently out of print, but available used.