Max Steiner was born in Vienna. His grandfather was a "musical impresario". His godfather was Richard Strauss. For a short time, Steiner studied with Gustav Mahler. Steiner studied violin, trumpet, piano, and organ. From the age of twelve, he conducted concerts and from the age of eighteen, he worked a great deal in Britain. Following the outbreak of the war in Europe, Steiner accepted an invitation to move to New York where he spent many years working on theater production, conducting, orchestrating, and producing arrangements for many shows and musicals. Steiner worked with George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Sigmund Romberg before he moved to Hollywood to work for RKO and then Warner Brothers.
Steiner worked in Hollywood from the 1930's until the 1960's. He worked on several musicals as musical director and is now known primarily as a composer. His work on the scoring of films includes such masterpieces as "Tara's Theme" from Gone with the Wind, which is instantly recognizable. This work is significant in its representation of Tara - the house and plantation - and its important role in the film. Steiner received many Academy Award nominations and won three times. The "Max Steiner Award" was created in his honor for film music which recognizes Steiner's pioneering role in the early development of the craft of score composition.
Max Steiner's music style is highly distinctive. He does not use subtle nuances, but rather, his language is very direct, illustrating the emotion of the film at particular moments in time. Although Steiner has his signature style, he has been known to borrow an idea or melody from other sources. He has also been criticized for "Mickey Mousing" the film. However, Max Steiner made his mark as a pioneer in the composition of music for film. He created several music scores for films, some of which have become renowned for their power and drama, i.e. King Kong.
Steiner was another key component contributing to the success of Gone with the Wind. The blockbuster movie was further enhanced by the powerful score which complemented the intense plot and scenery. This issue illustrates the magnitude of Steiner's influence in the film industry. The public was aware of Steiner's reputation and when his original score for Gone with the Wind was played, the audience instantly recognized it as Steiner's work. This important facet of the film not only contributed to its overall impact, but most certainly helped contribute to its success.