Renowned film composer Miklos Rozsa, born in Budapest in 1907, became a naturalized American citizen after moving to the United States during World War II. He is known for his more than 100 film scores, including Academy Award-winning scores for Spellbound (1945), A Double Life (1948), and Ben Hur (1959). As with the music of many other composers of film scores in the 40s and 50s, such as Korngold, Waxman, and Steiner, Rozsa's serious works have risen to new prominence in today's concert halls.
Rozsa's music was often influenced by the Hungarian folk songs to which he listened as a child, and collected in a notebook. The Violin Concerto, written for and premiered by the great violinist Jascha Heifetz, is full of their flavor, evoking the passion and bravura of gypsy fiddlers.
The Cello Concerto was also written for a famous performer; Janos Starker commissioned the work in 1967, when Rozsa had decided to retire. Retirement had to be postponed, however, when the composer was also asked to write the score for a science-fiction film called The Power. Following completion of the film score, Rozsa finished the Cello Concerto, which was premiered at the Berlin Festival in 1969.
Rozsa's Theme and Variations evolved from the middle movement of a larger work, a double concerto, Opus 29, written for Heifetz and the cellist Gregor Piatagorsky. Heifetz requested a scaled-down arrangement of the middle movement for its first performance in 1963, at which he both performed as soloist with Piatagorsky, and conducted. It was eventually published on its own, as Opus 29a.