Ernst Toch was a Jewish-Austrian composer who unlike many other famous composers, was never formally trained; his genius was truly innate. In 1897, at age ten, Toch purchased scores of Mozart string quartets and copied them for fun. Young Toch, who had perfect pitch, began to improvise new additions to the Mozart scores. By comparing his own improvised ideas with the master's works, he developed his talent.
In 1909, Toch won Vienna's Mozart Prize for Musical Composition, which came with a scholarship to study at the Frankfurt Conservatory. But he arrived in Frankfurt only to find that his instructors were more interested in learning from him! Thus he began teaching.
Toch was very prolific in the 1920s during the Weimar years, creating a number of works in a wide range of styles. His contributions to Berlin's modernist movement and to opera earned him great recognition. But he saw Hitler's rise for the threat it was and fled Germany at the first possible moment. By 1933, he and his family were in Paris. Unfortunately, it would be the beginning of a very difficult period in his career. Without a publisher for his work, his prospects were limited, and it would be years before he could build a new life.
Eventually, he was offered a teaching position in New York and was able to affiliate himself with an American publishing company. But Hitler's anti-Semitic laws had made Toch's German royalty agency abandon his previous works.
He got his start in Hollywood when Paramount studios offered him a commission. Though he did not particularly enjoy scoring films, he needed steady income. Toch had sponsored many Austrian relatives to start a new life in the U.S. The financial burden forced him to devote more time to Hollywood and to teaching at University of Southern California than to his own compositions. Still, he was nominated for three Academy Awards within his first ten years in the industry.
Toch's next great creative period began in 1948 when he returned to composition with a renewed sense of purpose. Over the following fifteen years, he composed a total of seven symphonies, of which the third was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. He finished his final opera Scheherazade: The Last Tale shortly before he passed away in Santa Monica in 1964.