Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto: 'bloody awful'?

If you’re looking for a piece of music that divides opinion, look no further than this work. Beloved by many for its Rachmaninov-esque melodies and nostalgic sound-world, it’s also remembered for its repeated occurrence in Spike Milligan’s autobiography as ‘the bloody awful Warsaw Concerto’.

Despite sounding like a full-blooded Romantic piano concerto, the piece was actually composed for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, a World War II love story with a sweeping soundtrack to match the romance of the plot. The film’s producers apparently had their eyes on Rachmaninov: he, they thought, would be the perfect man to write the score. But if you’re Rachmaninov, you can afford to turn down the odd commission here and there – and so, when the first-choice composer said ‘thanks but no thanks’, the job of penning the music for Dangerous Moonlight fell to Addinsell. Despite all that, it’s fair to say that even he passed on much of the work, too: it fell to the arranger and orchestrator Roy Douglas to knit together the melodies and turn them into a fully orchestrated, heart-on-your-sleeve concert piece.

The composer’s unashamed use of indulgent harmonies and grand Romantic gestures goes a great way towards explaining why the Warsaw Concerto remains hugely popular today. And while the music lives on, you would struggle to find a decent crowd of people who can remember the movie.

The Film: Dangerous Moonlight

Released: 1941

Directed by: Brian Desmond Hirst

Cast: Anton Walbrook, Sally Gray, Cecil Parker

During the Nazi invasion of Poland, an American reporter meets a Polish airman and piano virtuoso. When he finally escapes to New York they meet again and marry but the thought of him going back to fight is not only personally terrifying to his new wife but seems a great waste of his musical talent.

Recommended Recording

Roderick Elms (piano); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; José Serebrier (conductor). Classic FM: CFMCD 46.