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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
Great Escape composer dies at 82
Elmer Bernstein
Bernstein's career spanned more than 50 years
Oscar-winning composer Elmer Bernstein, famous for scores including The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, died on Wednesday at the age of 82.

Although he only won one Oscar during his 50-year career, for Thoroughly Modern Millie, he was nominated 14 times, most recently in 2002.

As an accomplished pianist, Bernstein moved to Hollywood from New York in 1950 as his movie career took off.

His publicist said he died in his sleep at his Los Angeles home.

Among more than 200 film and TV credits were the scores for To Kill a Mockingbird, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Ten Commandments and The Age of Innocence.

Bernstein's first film score was Saturday's Hero, a tale about American football, in 1951.

One of his most recent scores was for the 2002 movie Far From Heaven, for which he received his final Academy Award nomination.

Director Martin Scorsese, whom he worked with on Cape Fear, once said of him: "It's one thing to write music that reinforces a film, underscores it... or gives it added dramatic muscle.

"It's entirely another to write music that graces a film. That's what Elmer Bernstein does, and that, for me, is his greatest gift."

Iconic theme

Speaking about composing for To Kill a Mockingbird, Bernstein said he had difficulty writing music about racism in the Depression era.

Bernstein on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Bernstein was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996
"Then I realized that the film was about these issues but seen through the eyes of children," he said.

"The simple score was played by a small ensemble, at times employing single piano notes, much like a child picking out a tune."

The theme to The Great Escape broke out of its context as movie music to become an iconic tune in its own right, as did The Magnificent Seven.

The rousing Magnificent Seven theme was recently resurrected in Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Although Elmer was friends with fellow New York composer Leonard Bernstein, they were not related.

Publicist Cathy Mouton said the composer's health had been failing for some time.

The BBC's Chris Jones looks back at Bernstein's life
"At the age of 12 he was performing at concert halls"

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