He began his musical studies at the Liszt Academy in Budapest and at age thirteen began to accompany his father in concerts. In 1921, the family came to the United States where his father joined the New York Metropolitan Opera. The day after Rozsa arrived in the United States he applied for US citizenship.
His father died in tragic circumstances a year after joining the Metropolitan Opera and as a teenager Rozsa had to support himself and his mother, working as a stockboy and a movie pianist playing in one of those cheap theaters of the day. At the same time he continued his musical studies at the Institute of Musical Art (later the Juilliard School of Music), receiving a diploma in composition in 1928.
After winning the Seligman Prize for chamber music composition he had the opportunity for further study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Rozsa continued to live in New York City, conducting orchestras and choruses, producing operas, and serving for five years as staff pianist and organist at the National Broadcasting Company. He began graduate studies at the University of Iowa and in 1943 and was awarded a doctorate in Composition and Psychology of Music. Before joining the faculty of the School of Music at Tulsa University, he taught at Baylor University and was the head of the music department at Iowa Wesleyan University.
Rozsa left a great legacy of music and scholarship. Tulsa University hired him in 1945 as a composer and for the next 30 years he made a huge impression on his students as he served as head of the department of music theory, director of graduate study and teacher of organ and piano. To honor his heritage, the School of Music established the Bela Rozsa Memorial Concert and Composition Competition.
The chairman of of the university's theater department described Rozsa as a colorful fixture on campus who would cruise around in his red Corvette and often dance a jig for his students. One former student described him as a perfect teacher who gave each student a life long appreciation of fine music. In a 1960 class memory book one former student had a different opinion. He did not approve of Dr. Rozsa, his most memorable professor, and did not think he was a good teacher, but at the same time added that he learned a great deal from him, so was forced to admit that perhaps he taught well after all.
Rozsa was a latecomer to chess who did not learn how to play until he was 34 years old. His his progress was rapid and in 1940, only a year after learning how to play, he won the North Texas Championship and followed up by winning it in 1942 and 1948. In 1948 he also tied for first in the Southwestern Open. Rozsa was a ten-time Oklahoma State Champion and in 1952 won the Correspondence Chess League of America's Tenth Grand National Correspondence Championship.
The following game is from the 46th US Open held in Peoria, Ilinois July 9-21, 1945. The 33-player turnout was the second best since 1938, but most of the top players were missing. The annual tournament in Ventnor City ended one day before Peoria and the Pan American event in Hollywood started a week afterward.
The 1945 US Open was divided into six preliminary sections and Rozsa played in Section B where he finished first ahead of Einar Michelsen with an undefeated 5-0. The top two finishers from each section were seeded into the finals.
Michelsen (born 1885, died May 15, 1952 at the age of 66) was born in Odense, Denmark. In 1903 Michelsen helped found the Danish chess magazine Skakbladet. He emigrated to the US in 1905, living in Chicago except for a few years in New York during World War I. In 1907, he won the championship of the Western Chess Association in Excelsior, Minn. In 1908 he won the Kansas City chess championship and in 1909 was champion of the Chicago Chess and Checker Club. He placed fourth in the 1945 US Open at the age of 60.
1) Anthony Santasiere 9.5
2) Frederic Anderson 7.0
3) Albert Sandrin 6.5
4) Einar Michelsen 6.0
5-7) William Byland, Milton Finkelstein and Roger Johnson 5.5
8-10) Earl Davidson, Robert Konkel and Bela Rozsa 5.0
11) Constantine Rasis 4.5
12) L. Walter Stephens 1.0
On the USCF Spring 1955 rating list Rozsa was rated 2101 which is not very high by today's standards, but on that list there were only 42 players with ratings of Master or above. His opponent, Robert Konkel of San Francisco, was rated 2204. In those days Masters were rated 2300 and over while Experts were rated 2100-2299.
When Tartakower wrote the winner is the player who makes the next to last blunder he could have used this game as an example. It's exciting though!