Victor Young's Biography

Violinist and conductor Victor Young was a prolific composer and arranger, who worked on more than 300 film scores over a period of twenty years. He came from an impoverished, but musical background and was trained on the violin at the Warsaw Imperial Conservatory, later studying piano in Paris under the French master Isidor Philipp. A prodigious talent, Young made his professional debut as a teenager with the Warsaw Philharmonic. However, World War I intervened, and he spent several months interned in a prison facility in Russia. Somehow, he was able to escape. By 1920, he had found his way to the United States and resumed work as a violinist with the Central Park Casino Orchestra in Chicago. He also diversified as an arranger and conductor for radio and the theatre. His first connection with the film industry came about, when he secured a position as assistant director with the Balaban and Katz cinema chain, writing and arranging as many as five (silent) film scores a week. During the late 1920's, Young was back as musical director for 'Harvest of Stars' on radio, and as a talent scout for Edison Records. He briefly arranged for bandleader Ted Fio Rito before fronting his own orchestra in 1935, backed by a recording deal with Decca. He worked with many of the great vocalists of the period, including Judy Garland, Lee Wiley and The Boswell Sisters. His high profile brought him to the attention of Paramount, where he was signed to a one-year contract in 1936. He worked for the studio again between 1940 and 1949, but, by that time, his reputation had become so formidable that he came to be regarded as the pre-eminent film composer, and assigned the lion's share of A-grade features. His music subtly and seamlessly integrated into dramas like Reap the Wild Wind (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), So Evil My Love (1948), John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952) and the western classic Shane (1953). Young also wrote countless evergreen songs, many for top-flight singers, like Bing Crosby. His first big hit was "Sweet Sue" (popularly recorded by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra), followed by the melodic jazz standard "Stella by Starlight" (which served as the theme for The Uninvited (1944)) and the ballad "When I Fall in Love" (a huge hit for Nat 'King' Cole, who featured the song in the movie Istanbul (1957)). For Broadway, Young wrote both music and lyrics for "Seventh Heaven", in 1955. Nominated for a staggering 22 Academy Awards, Young had his only win (for Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)), rather sadly, after his sudden death from a stroke at the age of 56. It has been suggested, that his film compositions, while polished, lacked the élan or authoritative stamp of a Max Steiner or a Bernard Herrmann. Nonetheless, the sheer volume and enduring popularity of Young's music ensure his immortality among the ranks of the great songwriters and film composers of the 20th century.

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