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Projections of Musical Jewishness: Composers of Hollywood's Golden Age



Projections of Musical Jewishness: Composers of Hollywood’s Golden Age


Aaron Fruchtman

Doctor of Philosophy, Graduate Program in Music

University of California, Riverside, June 2016

Dr. Byron Adams, Chairperson

This dissertation investigates landmark Jewish topic film scores by composers writing dramatic music in the Golden Age of Hollywood (1932-1960). This study is a synoptic presentation, or as Wittgenstein might say, a “perspicuous representation” of the musical Jewish world of Hollywood. During this period, Jewish composers, who had generally been viewed as marginal figures in music history, found a rare moment of insider status and wrote music informed by their Jewish heritage. Drawing from extensive archival research, I examine the life and music of Max Steiner, one of the most successful composers in Hollywood history, with special emphasis placed on his seminal score to the “ghetto film” Symphony of Six Million (1932). A separate chapter explores Alfred Newman’s scores to a collection of Jewish topic films including The House of Rothschild (1934), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). This is then compared and contrasted with Newman’s musical portrayals of the numinous in his scores to several post-war biblical epics, particularly focusing on The Robe (1953) and David and Bathsheba (1951). The final chapter focuses on the issue of cross reference in three seemingly disparate films on Jewish subjects by Franz Waxman, Alfred Newman, and Ernest Gold. The themes from Mr. Skeffington (1944), David and Bathsheba (1944), and Exodus (1960) share striking similarities, prompting an investigation of the musical sources that influenced these composers. The search aims to better understand Jewish musical signifiers in Hollywood. The film scores presented in this dissertation are texts that can offer understandings about the composers who created them and their shared social world in Hollywood. With this study there is a new point of departure for discussions about the complicated connection between musical Jewishness and Hollywood.

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