Franz Waxman was a Jewish composer who started out writing scores in the thriving and much-admired German film industry. His first original Hollywood score was James Whale’s memorable Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.
Waxman’s career lasted into the 1960s, resulting in over 150 film scores for movies across multiple genres, including romantic comedy, film noir, and westerns, and collaborations with some of the most celebrated directors of all time, including Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock.
Waxman wrote the gorgeous, evocative score of Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, winning the 1950 Academy Award for Best Original Score. In total, he received twelve Academy Award nominations and won two (the second, in 1951, was for A Place in the Sun). The Sunset Boulevard score is fast-paced and powerfully illustrates the increasing insanity of the Norma Desmond character. Try watching the film with the sound muted; Waxman’s music is such an integral part of the experience. His gift was creating film music that supported and contributed to the storytelling.
The American Film Institute ranked the score of Sunset Boulevard as #16 on their list of the top 25 greatest film scores. Ten of Waxman’s other scores were also nominated, including the scores for Bride of Frankenstein, The Philadelphia Story and Rebecca. Interestingly, only six other composers also had 11 scores nominated, and of them, two others were immigrants (Max Steiner from Austria and Miklós Rózsa from Hungary) and two were sons of immigrants (Elmer Bernstein and Alfred Newman).
What would the golden age of Hollywood have been without these immigrant musicians and their European and classical influences?