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About this Piece

Franz Waxman (1906-1967) was one of a small legion of gifted musicians who fled the Nazi onslaught in Germany in the 1930s. Educated in Dresden and Berlin, he worked his way through school playing piano in cafes and nightclubs; he later composed music for German films.

A beating by a band of anti-Semitic hooligans in 1934 determined a move to Paris, and the following year he emigrated to the U.S. Hollywood beckoned and he made rapid strides as a top film composer, winning two consecutive Academy Awards - for Sunset Boulevard (1950) and A Place in the Sun (1951). His film credits, beginning in 1935 and continuing until 1966, the year before his death, are as impressive as those of any of the most celebrated practitioners of the art of scoring for the Hollywood studios. His Oscar-nominated score for Taras Bulba, an historical drama starring Yul Brynner as the legendary Cossack, dates from 1962. Waxman was also an important conductor, and in 1962 he became the first American to conduct major Soviet orchestras, and it was on that trip (in a music store in Kiev) that he found a book of Russian folk songs, a number of which became sources of his Taras Bulba score.

In addition to his film work, Waxman was intensely involved in the musical scene of Los Angeles. In 1947 he founded the Los Angeles Music Festival, to which he devoted time and energy throughout the years, bringing Dmitri Shostakovich to Los Angeles in 1959 and then again in 1961, when he was accompanied by Khachaturian, Dmitri Kabalevsky, and the head of the composers of the Soviet Union, Tikhon Khrennikov.