Composer. Nationality: British. Born: London, England, 13 January 1904. Family: single. Education: Home schooled; attended Hertford School, Oxford, for 18 months; attended Royal College of Music for two semesters; studied in Berlin and Vienna, 1929–32. Career: Composed songs for London theater, 1925–28; scored first film, Amateur Gentleman , 1936. Died: London, England, 15 November 1977.
Amateur Gentleman (Freeland)
Fire Over England (Howard); Dark Journey ( The Anxious Years ) (Saville); Farewell Again ( Troopship ) (Whelan)
South Riding (Saville); Vessel of Wrath ( The Beachcomber )(Pommer)
Gaslight ( Angel Street ; Strange Case of Murder ) (Dickinson); Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Wood); The Lion Has Wings (Brunel/Hurst)
Contraband ( Blackout ) (Powell)
Love on the Dole (Baxter); Dangerous Moonlight ( Suicide Squadron ) (Hurst)
The Day Will Dawn ( The Avengers ) (French); The Big Blockade (Frend)
Blithe Spirit (Lean)
Under Capricorn (Hitchcock); The Passionate Friends ( One Woman's Story ) (Lean)
Highly Dangerous (Ward Baker); The Black Rose (Hathaway)
Tom Brown's Schooldays (Parry); Scrooge ( A Christmas Carol ) (Hurst)
Sea Devils (Walsh)
Macbeth (for TV) (Evans); Beau Brummell (Bernhardt)
Out of the Clouds (Dearden/Relph)
The Prince and the Showgirl (Olivier)
The Admirable Crichton ( Paradise Lagoon ) (Gilbert)
A Tale of Two Cities (Thomas)
The Greengage Summer ( Loss of Innocence ) (Gilbert); The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (Quintero)
The War Lover (Leacock)
Waltz of the Toreadors ( The Amorous General ) (Guillermin)
Life at the Top (Kotcheff)
Lane, Philip, "British Light Music: Richard Addinsell," liner notes for Marco Polo compact disc 8.223732.
Long, Harry, "Hail, Britannia!, Richard Addinsell: Film Music," CD reviews, Film Score Monthly Online Magazine , 29 February 2000.
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Composer Richard Stewart Addinsell was born in London on January 13, 1904. He was the son of a successful London business man and a mother so protective of her youngest child that his major education came through home schooling. Addinsell briefly attended Hertford School, Oxford, where he began to read Law, but his interest in music soon led him—briefly—to the Royal College of Music. In 1926 Addinsell's natural musical gifts led to his writing songs for that year's Andre Charlot revue, and later travel in Europe visiting the continent's major musical and theatrical centers. Around this time Addinsell also began an enduring association with the theatrical writer, Clemence Dane, a collaboration which led to theater and film work with performers such as Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
These various contacts led to Addinsell's first work in British films, a feature entitled The Amateur Gentleman , which starred Fairbanks and was partially scripted by Dane. Ensuing British films such as South Riding , Dark Journey , Fire Over England , and the first of several British feature propaganda films, The Lion Has Wings , followed. In 1940 he scored his first international success with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's British production of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. He also scored MGM's early version of Gaslight which was later surpressed in the wake of the Ingrid Bergman American version.
1941 saw the debut of Addinsell's chief d'oeuvre , the "Warsaw Concerto" composed for the film Dangerous Moonlight (U.S. title: Suicide Squadron ). The film itself is a melodrama involving a Polish air ace who had been a concert pianist before World War II. Themes from the "Warsaw" piece are heard throughout the film which then climaxes with a nearly complete performance of the concerto itself. This one-movement composition for piano and orchestra turned out to be the most striking element in the film for war-weary British audiences, and soon generated international interest as well. The celebrated Russian pianist and composer, Serge Rachmaninov, had been approached about doing the score, and when he refused it Addinsell cast his concerto in a Rachmaninovian mode of effusive, appealing lyricism. Indeed, the enduring popularity of the dramatic piece eventually eclipsed anything else the British composer was to create, and "Warsaw Concerto" eventually generated over a hundred separate recordings which sold in excess of three million copies.
"Warsaw Concerto" was also one of the first compositions to call attention to the specific art of composing for film, which was still an extremely specialized and esoteric calling in the early 1940s, and to the lucrative commercial potential of film music. (The popular success of Addinsell's work no doubt prompted the transcription of Miklos Rozsa's score for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound into a similar one-movement piano/orchestral synthesis which also achieved some popular success in 1945.) Addinsell's concerto remained popular for decades, and in the 1950s its lyrical main theme was adapted into an American popular song, "The World Outside." A pop version was recorded by Ray Coniff and his orchestra on the second volume of Coniff's Concert in Rhythm albums for Columbia.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Addinsell alternated film scoring with theatrical work, the latter including both composing and performing (as pianist/accompanist). He was especially known for his songwriting with the British actress/lyricist Joyce Grenfell, and for touring in her review of comic songs and sketches, Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure. Addinsell also wrote extensively for the BBC. His most well-known films of this period include David Lean's production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit , which produced one of Addinsell's most lyrical waltz melodies, Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn , and the British version of Tom Brown's Schooldays. Aside from his ubiquitous "Warsaw Concerto," one of Addinsell's best and most widely heard scores is for the 1951 British version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge. Starring Alistair Sim, this version of the oft-filmed tale has become a staple of holiday television viewing. Addinsell's imaginative and atmospheric score fuses his original themes and character motifs with traditional christmas carols, and explores a variety of styles and moods along the way, from the powerful opening cue which has been compared to music for a Universal horror classic, to a delicate music-box-style sequence for the wistful scene in which Tiny Tim gazes at clockwork toys in a shop window.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, the demise of the Hollywood studio system with its increasing emphasis on international co-productions led to some of Addinsell's more unusual and widely heard late work. In 1957 he scored the Marilyn Monroe production of Terance Ratigan's play, The Sleeping Prince, filmed as The Prince and the Showgirl with Monroe and Lawrence Olivier, and produced in London. For The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone , Jose Quintero's 1961 film of the Tennessee Williams novel starring Vivien Leigh, Addinsell composed a moody main theme, and a lyrical cantilena for guitar and orchestra which underscores the main title credits and continues under the spoken prologue. 1961 also saw Addinsell composing what he refered to as one of his personal favorite scores, the pastoral Greengage Summer. Addinsell's last film was Life at the Top , the sequel to one of the classics of the New British Cinema of the 1960s, Room at the Top. After seeing his great friend, the couturier Victor Steibal, through a difficult demise due to muscular sclerosis, Addinsell himself died in his native London in November of 1977.
Addinsell was popular with film producers because he was also an accomplished pianist who could immediately capture (and play for them) the exact type of music they desired for their projects. He was a genuis at scoring films, at capturing both mood and period, but (and here he is not unlike many other musicians who worked in films) he did not orchestrate, and so arrangers were needed to expand his music for full orchestra. Like the American composer/songwriter, Victor Young, Addinsell's reputation for attractive melodies and "light music" has somewhat overshadowed his prolific career in feature film scoring. But while the "Warsaw Concerto" remains the work for which Addinsell is best-remembered by the general public, the introduction of digital technology prompted a revival of interest in both Addinsell's film and light concert music, resulting in several CDs devoted to his film scores and miscellaneous pieces, including his "Smokey Mountains" concerto, and of course the ever-popular "Warsaw."