Richard Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto


Richard Addinsell is now most remembered for his work on film music. He wrote music for films such as Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), Scrooge (1940) and Dangerous Moonlight (1941). He led the way in the popularity of ‘tabloid concertos’ – classical compositions for solo instruments and orchestra composed for performance in films. This concept was explored in more depth, in particular in relation to Addinsell, by John Huntley:


“The associations which individual members of the audience may have in relation to a certain piece of well-known music are quite beyond the control of the director of a film in which it is used. And so with Dangerous Moonlight it was rightly decided to have a piece of music specially written, that could be used to become more associated in the mind of the audience with Poland, air raids in Warsaw, and whatever the director wanted to suggest.”


Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto was used in the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, however this was not part of the original plan:


“The film’s director had originally wanted to use Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, but this idea with either forbidden by the copyright owners or was far too expensive.”


Therefore, Addinsell was asked to create a piece in the style of Rachmaninoff for the film:


“While I was orchestrating the Warsaw Concerto I had around me the miniature scores of the Second and Third Piano Concertos, as well as the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”


The concerto is at the heart of the film, however Warsaw Concerto is never performed in its complete form. The opening of the work is heard when two protagonists meet, and then is further developed when the couple are on their honeymoon. The extended concert sequence with the film’s ‘composer’ at the piano shows the closing section of the concerto. Themes from the concerto are also used as underscoring in the film, giving the concerto the gravitas it deserves.


The Music

The music opens with a dramatic roll from the timpani and piano before the soloists takes over with a tension-fuelled cadenza. The big chordal movement is highly resonant of Rachmaninoff. After another loud timpani roll, the strings take over with the main theme of the concerto. 

The cascading scales from the piano counteracts the bold chordal movement from the rest of the orchestra. The soloist reflects the same kind of movement as the strings, before the music reaches its first full climax before reverting down to a much thinner texture. 

The next, much more lyrical section, highlights the romantic movement from the soloist, with a luscious string accompaniment. The soloist leads throughout this section, with there being more of a soloist-accompaniment structure panning out (unlike the opening which was more a musical dialogue between the soloist and orchestra). 

Another piano cadenza is heard before the winds and piano lead into the next section. The intensity is kept up throughout the work, with Addinsell’s flair for creating warm and blended textures throughout the orchestra. To me, this section is very reflective of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. 

The soloist works hard with the strings to keep the emotional intensity high, whilst also heading towards the finale section. A change in tempo and mood takes us away from the highly-romantic section into a more chaotic sequence. Echoing the opening of the concerto, the soloist and orchestra unite to play power chords together before they go their separate ways.

The music comes down again and reflections from the romantic section are played once more. The biggest climax then ensues, with the orchestra playing the main melody, albeit an octave higher now to create more emotional intensity. The cascading piano fits in between the gaps creating a shimmering effect.

The concerto comes to a dramatic close with the piano and orchestra revving up to a quick piano interlude before one more recap of the main theme. The piano plays a selection of the opening chords with much power, as the orchestra play stabs in between. The soloist and orchestra unite for the final dominant-tonic proclamation as this mini concerto ends with drama – coming full circle.


Final Thoughts

Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto is an incredible display of the composer’s grasp of Romantic techniques. From the lavish textures and timbres, to the memorable melodic writing, this ‘tabloid concerto’ is full of drama, emotion and intensity – one not to be missed.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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