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Richard Addinsell and the Warsaw Concerto


Richard Stewart Addinsell (January 13, 1904 –November 14, 1977) was a British composer, best known for film music, primarily his Warsaw Concerto, composed for the 1941 the RKO picture Dangerous Moonlight which was also known under the later title Suicide Squadron.  He was hugely influential on a generation of British film composers and established a quality and style of full scale orchestral writing that was never bettered.  Addinsell was born in Woburn Square, London, England, to William Arthur Addinsell, who was a chartered accountant, and his wife, Annie Beatrice Richards.  The younger of two brothers, Richard was educated at home before attending Hertford College, Oxford, to study Law but left after just eighteen months. He then became interested in music and began to compose aged 21.

In 1925, Addinsell enrolled at the Royal College of Music but lasted only two terms before leaving, again without obtaining any formal qualification.  However, by this time Addinsell was already collaborating with Noel Gay, among others, in an André Charlot Revue.  More work for Charlot in 1927 was followed in 1928 by a collaboration with Clemence Dane on Adam’s Opera at The Old Vic.  From 1929 to 1932, Addinsell completed his informal education by touring Europe to visit major theatrical and musical centers such as Berlin and Vienna.  In 1932, with Clemence Dane, he wrote the incidental music for the Broadway adaptation of Alice in Wonderland by Eva Le Gallienne, starring Josephine Hutchinson and produced in1933. In 1947 it was revived, starring Bambi Linn. From 1933 to 1935 Addinsell lived in the USA writing scores for the Hollywood studios.  After that, Addinsell continued to write off and on for the stage, but he focused more on film music, scoring such classics as Goodbye Mr. Chips, A Tale of Two Cities, Blithe Spirit, Fire Over England, and Dark Journey, as well as a number of patriotic English documentaries during World War II.

The Warsaw Concerto was written for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, and continues to be a popular concert and recording piece. The film-makers wanted something in the style of Sergei Rachmaninoff, but were unable to persuade Rachmaninoff himself to write a piece. Roy Douglas orchestrated the concerto. It has been recorded over one hundred times and has sold in excess of three million copies.  Addinsell collaborated from 1942 with Joyce Grenfell for her West End revues, including Tuppence Coloured and Penny Plain, and her one-woman shows, during which he often accompanied her on the piano. Addinsell’s music is in the “English light music” style, though his music for films such as “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” and “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” is firmly traditional with hints of English folk music and Elgar-like pride and pomp. Addinsell was versatile, being able to adapt to period dramas, thrillers, romances and comedies, and composed soundtracks for a number of films in these genres.  He regularly composed at the piano, providing other creative musicians such as Roy Douglas, Leonard Isaacs or Douglas Gamley with broad indications for their full orchestrations.

Addinsell provided music for other popular films of the time and for Christopher Fry’s stage play Ring around the Moon.  He also omposed a number of “start-up” pieces and fanfares for Great Britian’s Associated-Rediffusion TV service.  As was common with film music until the 1950s, many of Addinsell’s scores were destroyed by the studios as it was assumed there would be no further interest in them. However, recordings of his film music have been issued since his death, often reconstructed by musicologist and composer Philip Lane from the soundtracks of the films themselves and conducted by Kenneth Alwyn or Rumon Gamba.  Addinsell also wrote the short orchestral piece Southern Rhapsody, which was played every morning at the start of TV broadcasts by the former Southern Television company in the south of England from 1958 to 1981.  Heretired from public life in the 1960s, gradually becoming estranged from his close friends and died in Brighton, Sussex on November 15, 1977, aged 73. His cremation took place at Golders Green Crematorium on November 18.

The following works by Richard Addinsell are contained in my collection:

Blithe Spirit (1945): Waltz Theme

The Day Will Dawn (1942): Tea-Time Music (Palms and Fountains)

Greengage Summer (1961): Suite

Highly Dangerous (1950): Theme

Invocation for piano and orchestra from Journey into Romance

The Lion Has Wings (1939): Cavalry of the Clouds March;

March of the United Nations from Britain to America (1942)

Out of the Clouds (1954): Theme (The Flame)

The Passionate Friends (1948): Lover’s’ Moon

Sea Devils (1953): Prologue

Under Capricorn (1949): Suite

Warsaw Concerto from Dangerous Moonlight

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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