Richard Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto

If Gershwin indeed “took jazz off the streets, dressed her up, and took her to the concert hall,” as Quincy Jones said in Fantasia 2000, then Richard Addinsell perhaps contributed in the opposite direction. As Hubert Clifford wrote, “Addinsell is justly celebrated for the tuneful, familiar quality of his writing, and for the extraordinary phenomenon of the ‘Warsaw Concerto,’ which brought The Piano Concerto to the notice of the man in the street.”

Written for the film Dangerous Moonlight in 1941, it in part depicts the romance between the character of Polish musician and airman Stefan Radetzky with American reporter Carol Peters, during World War II. Its popularity has generated over a hundred recordings, with sales of over five million US dollars.

“Unique with films is the phenomenon that although the film itself may be forgotten, components of the film may well stand the test of time,” wrote R. F. Sun. “The theme of the ‘Warsaw Concerto’… would almost certainly stir memories in many, and recognition by most, current musicians and cinemaphiles both.”

The work has an intentional feel of Rachmaninov, with arranger and orchestrator Roy Douglas having played a significant role in the work’s development. While this brings a certain lushness to its sound, one might also hear a foreshadowing of the age of the Soviet Union, the cultural impact of which can still be seen in Warsaw today – most likely an unexpected effect for a work written in 1941.

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