Home > Fathers of Film Music > RICHARD ADDINSELL – Fathers of Film Music, Part 16

RICHARD ADDINSELL – Fathers of Film Music, Part 16

Richard AddinsellArticle by Craig Lysy

Born: 13 January 1904, London, England.
Died: 14 November 1977.

Richard Stewart Addinsell was the youngest of two sons born to business accountant Arthur Addinsell and his wife, Annie Beatrice Richards. His mother was so possessive and protective of young Richard that he was kept from public school and instead educated at home. Although fascinated by music, he was enrolled by his family at Hertford School, Oxford to pursue a degree in Law. He found his studies uninspiring and after two terms left, never to return. On his own initiative, he enrolled in the Royal College of Music, where he hoped to pursue his true passion – music. Yet he was not a good student and soon left the college to express his talent in the real world. In 1926 he began collaborating with writer Noel Grey, writing songs for the Andre Charlot revue to support himself. This led to travel to the continent where he visited the major musical and theatrical cultural centers of the day, including Berlin and Vienna. By chance he came to meet singers Gertrude Lawrence and Clemence Dane, with whom he began a fruitful collaboration, which led to success theatrically. He collaborated with Dane to provide incidental music for Adam’s Opera in 1929, and then in 1932 an Eva Le Gallienne adaptation of the Lewis Carroll’s alice in Wonderland tale. These successes were fortuitous in that their notoriety opened an amazing door – film work.

Addinsell’s first film score was His Lordship in 1932, a British musical comedy directed by Michael Powell. He acquainted himself well, but it would be four years before he scored another film with The Amateur Gentleman in 1936, which starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and was partially scripted by Dane. Next came the Elizabethan period piece film Fire Over England in 1937, where he provided the requisite drama, grace, and pomp and circumstance of the Tudor court. Dark Journey followed in 1937, a romantic thriller starring Vivian Leigh where he provided a tense and riveting soundscape. Farewell Again AKA Troopship, an obscure and soon forgotten war film, finished the year. He concluded the decade with two of the finest efforts in his canon; South Riding (1938) a powerful romantic drama, which features beautiful piano work, and exquisite, quintessential English romanticism, and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939), a fine example of the lyricism of the post European Romantic tradition. The film is set in a school for boys, where an aged headmaster soon to retire reminisces over his life at the school. Addinsell perfectly captured the setting and bittersweet narrative, gracing us with passages, which hearken back to glorious days of Elgar.

The 1940s were Addinsell’s most productive decade, with 1940, 1941 and 1942 his most prolific years. He opened with a series of propaganda films, which played against the backdrop of the Battle of Britain. These films were made to fortify the British people in one of the darkest times in their history as they faced an existential threat from Nazi Germany. First came The Lion Has Wings in 1940, where director Alexander Korda sought to extol the might of the British Empire and its willingness to defy the rising tide of Nazism. Addinsell’s rousing and patriotic score outshined its film. Men of the Lightship (1940), was a documentary that vilified the Nazi tactics of destroying these treasures, which until then had always been exempted as military targets due to their humanitarian purpose. Next came Britain at Bay (1940), where Addinsell’s rousing score was used to assist the film in rallying the British people to defend their homeland from imminent invasion. Contraband (1940) was a spy thriller and Addinsell’s tense score fully captured the drama and intrigue. He concluded the year with Gaslight (1940), which was regretfully suppressed by the far superior American version that starred Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.

Addinsell opened what would be his banner year with W.R.N.S. (1941), another war documentary, which extorted women to do their patriotic duty and join the war effort. Next came the comedy Old Bill and Son (1941), which was followed by what, would become Addinsell’s legacy work. Regretfully its success would result in the unfair declaration by some critics that he was a “one score composer” as he would never again attain such beauty. The film score I speak of is Dangerous Moonlight (1941), which contains his masterpiece work, the Warsaw Concerto. The film tells the story of an American newswoman who falls in love with a renowned Polish pianist intent on returning home to fight the Nazis. The director wanted a concerto written in the lush romantic style of Sergei Rachmaninoff. When Rachmaninoff refused to score the film, Addinsell was tasked with writing a Rachmaninoff-style concerto. Addinsell rose to the challenge and produced a masterpiece composition, which earned him fame and in my judgment, immortality. The alchemy he achieved with Rachmaninoff is extraordinary. The piece is stunning; breathtaking, lush, and so exquisite in its grand florid romanticism that it brings for your author with every listen, a quiver and a tear. In my judgment the Warsaw Concerto takes its place as one of the greatest film score compositions ever written. Worth noting is the piece has been recorded over one hundred times, and has sold in excess of three million copies.

Addinsell closed the year with the propaganda film This England, and one of the finest scores in his canon, Love on the Dole. The film set during the English depression, offers the sad story of a young Sally Hardcastle (Deborah Kerr) who chooses to become a rich bookmaker’s mistress to feed her unemployed family. Addinsell provides sympathy and heart to the potent narrative by channeling the vintage English romantic expressionism of Vaughn Williams and Sir Arthur Bliss, with just gorgeous writing for strings, where he offers several wondrous passages. The score offers another fine example of how music enhances and elevates a film. From 1943 until the end of the war, Addinsell committed himself to supporting the war effort and composed scores for nine propaganda films, using his music to rouse and rally the people. These included; Big Blockade (1942), The Day Will Dawn (1942), The Siege of Tobruk (1942), Troop Ship (1942, which featured the popular song “Hold Your Hats On”), The New Lot (1943), We Sail at Midnight (1943), Soldier Sailor (1945, which featured the popular song ‘I’m Going To See You Today”), and A Diary for Timothy (1945). Addinsell is to be commended for placing his career on hold to support the British war effort.

Once freed from his wartime commitment, Addinsell celebrated his return to the cinema with David Lean’s production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit in 1945. The comedy-mystery reveals newly wed Charles and his second wife Ruth haunted by the spirit of his first wife Elvira, whom he seeks to contact through Medium Madame Arcati. Addinsell’s score succeeds on all counts, achieving a perfect balance of the comedic and mystery elements of the film. His score features exuberant writing for horns, as well as offering one his most lyrical waltzes. Following this triumph he would not score another film for four years as throughout the 1940s and 1950s he pursued his other passions – theatrical work and classical pieces for the concert hall. Addinsell was very fond of composing and performing as a pianist, as well as writing songs for British actress/lyricist Joyce Grenfell. They would often tour together, featuring a revue of her comic songs and sketches titled, Joyce Grenfell Requests. Among his concert pieces for the 1940s were March of the United Nations (1942), Tune in G (1943), Invocation (1946) and Festival for Piano and Orchestra (1947).

Addinsell closed the decade with two of his finest works, the first being The Passionate Friends (1949), based on the H.G. Wells novel. The film tells the story of young lovers Mary and Steven who are sadly separated only to be reunited years later with Mary in an unhappy marriage to an older man. They decide to have one last romantic moment with a trip to the Alps. Addinsell provides a wondrous musical tapestry full of passion, sadness, romance and youthful exuberance, which perfectly capture the spirit of our ‘passionate friends’. The second was Alfred Hitchcock’s Romantic drama Under Capricorn (1949). The film tells the story of Charles Adare, who reunites with his estranged childhood sweetheart Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), now an alcoholic unhappily married to another man. Henrietta harbors dark secrets and seems on the verge of madness. By juxtaposing guitar and strings Addinsell expertly captured her pathos, her dread, and the undercurrent of mystery, which permeated all of Hitchcock’s films.

Addinsell continued his good form in the new decade with a beautiful effort in the adventure period piece film The Black Rose (1950). I have only heard this score in the film, and it am saddened that there is no score released. Addinsell was provided a massive canvass with settings that stretched from 13th century England to Cathay, and he responded with a lush and exotic score that was Steineresque in its lyricism and emotive power. He concluded the year with the action thriller Highly Dangerous. The next year saw a trio of scores the spanned multiple genres: Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951), a drama set in a boarding school where he juxtaposes the film’s bullying and violence with music of surprising lightness. Then there was the comedy Encore (1951), followed by a superb score for Brian Desmond Hurst’s adaptation of the Dickens tale A Christmas Carol (1951). For me, Addinsell succeeds on all counts in supporting the classic tale with a score infused with traditional Christmas carols, traditional English songs and sparkling melodies, juxtaposed to the sad and grim alienation of Scrooge. For me, the use of a music box to support the wistful scene where we see Tiny Tim gazing longingly at clockwork toys in a shop window was a masterstroke. His output for the concert hall continued with Invitation Waltz (1950) and perhaps one of his most satisfying and melodic works, The Smokey Mountains Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1950).

For the rest of the decade Addinsell took on fewer and fewer assignments, preferring to focus on his theatrical collaboration with Joyce Grenfell. After scoring three now obscure films – Penny Plain (1952), The Secret Cave (1953) and Sea Devils (1953) – he returned to the big screen in magnificent form for the lavish period piece Beau Brummell (1954). He provided a quintessential English score, wistful, romantic, full of grace and elegance with his signature waltzes, one for Brummell’s friendship with the prince and another for his romance with Lady Patricia. Despite this, producer Sam Zimbalist felt the final film was flawed and so brought in Miklós Rózsa provide music that was more forceful and melodramatic so as to shore up the story’s narrative weakness. I have heard both, and frankly love both versions. After 23 years Addinsell revisited Lewis Carroll’s fairytale Alice in Wonderland in 1955 and provided a splendid score, which fully captured the wonder, magic and adventure of the tale.

By the late 1950’s the studio system of Hollywood was coming to an end, which opened the gates for increased international co-productions. This had the consequence of providing Addinsell with increased opportunity for work. A trio of films followed, which again brought him to the forefront in scoring major films. The first was The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), which starred Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier. He captured the film’s emotional core with a main theme, which flowed as an exuberant waltz, spritely dance music, vintage honky-tonk for street life and the faux pomp and circumstance of the court. For the delightful comedy The Admirable Crichton (1957) he provided a light-hearted score, which featured a festive string propelled tango as well as set pieces that were simply ravishing and seductive. Regretfully he was unable to finish the project and Douglas Gamley is provided credit, although most of the score was Addinsell’s. The third film was A Tale of Two Cities (1958) where we bear witness to truly dynamic scoring featuring bold horns, contrasted with sumptuous strings, which perfectly captures the film’s poignant narrative. He concluded his 1950’s opus with the short orchestral piece Southern Rhapsody (1958), which was played every morning at the start of TV broadcasts in the south of England until 1981. Once again he wrote a free-flowing waltz, dazzling quintessential English pastorale of uncommon beauty and elegance.

The 1960s would mark Addinsell’s final opus for which he provided just seven scores, with 1965 being his final year. He opened the decade with the TV movie MacBeth (1960), which he followed with what he describes as his personal favorite, The Greengage Summer AKA Loss of Innocence (1961). The story tells a coming of age tale of a young British girl who finds romance while on vacation in France. Addinsell creates a very touching and evocative score pastorale, which longs for simpler times. Next came Jose Quintero’s 1961 film of the Tennessee Williams novel The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) starring Vivien Leigh, for which he provided a moody and conflicted theme to speak to Karen’s complicated relationship with gigolo Paola. Also noteworthy was the melodic cantilena for guitar and orchestra introduced in the Main Titles, which permeates the film, fully capturing the romance of Rome. The following year brought Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), a period piece full of intrigue, infidelity and discord. Once again Addinsell graces us with one of his signature waltzes, which perfectly contrasts the English gentility so sought by the characters, and yet so illusive. He finished the year with the Steve McQueen WWI drama The War Lover (1962).

Addinsell’s final film was Life at the Top (1965), the sequel to one of the classics of the New British Cinema, Room at the Top (1959). The story tells the tale of a man undone by his ambition. Addinsell provided a lush string born theme for the romance, juxtaposed by a solo trumpet theme, which supported the darker and grittier scenes. Following this film Addinsell retired from public life and over time gradually became estranged from his close friends. He was, for many years, the companion of the fashion designer Victor Stiebel, who regretfully was struck down in 1963 by multiple sclerosis. We suspect that the increasing demands of Stiebel’s degenerative disease lead to Addinsell’s retirement. Stiebel died in 1976 and Addinsell himself passed the following year in Brighton, Sussex, at the age of 73. It turns out that the royalties for the famous Warsaw Concerto were bequeathed to his neighbor, novelist Jilly Cooper. Theories promoted by her brother postulate that the bequeathal was made by Addinsell in gratitude for her discretion regarding his relationship with Stiebel.


Richard Addinsell 2Addinsell never fully completed his musical education, but was blessed with an innate gift for melody, as well as the ability to capture the mood and sensibility of a film. He was a superb pianist and directors appreciated that he could quickly provide them with accessible theme on the piano. For the final product, he relied upon orchestrators to flesh out his themes for full orchestra. His signature piece was the waltz, for which he demonstrated an exception talent. In film after film he found creative ways to infuse his soundscapes with the classic dance form, and in each case the film was better for it. In assessing his style, critics have often used the term “English Light Music”, which I believe is unfair and an over simplification. There was indeed an incredible lightness of being in his compositional methods, but he was authentically English in his sensibilities. Films such as Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) and Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951) abound with traditional English folk music, as well as Elgarian pride and pomp. Addinsell was very adept and versatile in his composition style, and he repeatedly demonstrated a capacity to successfully score films across a multiplicity of genres including; period dramas, thrillers, romances, comedies, and war films. In many ways Addinsell was kindred to Victor Young, both had a singular gift for melody, both were labeled as composers of “light music”, and both were overshadowed by their peers. Nevertheless, I believe Addinsell’s style in every endeavor succeeded in its singular mission – to capture the film’s emotional core and enhance its narrative.


I regret to say that tragically until 1950, it was a common practice for studios to destroy score manuscripts as it was assumed there would be no further interest in them. As such much of Addinsell’s canon has been lost. Thankfully efforts by musicologists and composers such as Philip Lane have been able to reconstruct several of Addinsell’s scores, which have again brought to life by conductors such as Kenneth Alwyn and Rumon Gamba. I commend these efforts, which as a lover of film score art I find invaluable.

Addinsell, despite a lack of formal musical training succeed admirably in contributing to film score art. Watch any film to which he was attached and you immediately discern that there is a perfect synergy between film and music. This is a rare gift, one that with Addinsell is yet to be fully acknowledged and appreciated. Additionally, it is laudable that he suspended his career and dedicated himself to supporting the war effort by repeatedly scoring war effort films. Great Britain was faced with an existential threat and he did his part admirably to rouse, inspire and rally his countrymen. Lastly, I believe in many ways that Addinsell inherited the mantle from Ralph Vaughn Williams and Sir Arthur Bliss, carrying on their tradition of providing exceptional and quintessential English sensibilities for melody. His canon is small, but well worth your interest and exploration.


Richard Addinsell received no Academy Awards or Golden Globe nominations, and the BAFTA awards did not begin until 1969, fours years after he had retired.


1930s: His Lordship (1932), The Amateur Gentleman (1936), Fire Over England (1937), Dark Journey (1937), Farewell Again (1937), South Riding (1938), Vessel of Wrath (1938) and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939).

1940s: The Lion Has Wings (1940), Men of the Lightship (1940), Britain at Bay (1940), Contraband (1940), Gaslight (1940), W.R.N.S. (1941), Old Bill and Son (1941), Dangerous Moonlight (1941), This England (1941), Love on the Dole (1941), This Is Colour (1942), The Big Blockade (1942), The Day Will Dawn (1942), The Siege of Tobruk (1942), Troop Ship (1942), The New Lot (1943), We Sail at Midnight (1943), A Diary for Timothy (1945), Blithe Spirit (1945), Soldier Sailor (1945), The Passionate Friends (1949), Under Capricorn (1949).

1950s: The Black Rose (1950), Highly Dangerous (1950), Scrooge (1951), Encore (1951), Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951), A Christmas Carol (1952), Penny Plain (1952), The Secret Cave (1953), Sea Devils (1953), Beau Brummell (1954), Out of the Clouds (1955), Alice In Wonderland (1955), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), The Admirable Crichton (1957, uncredited), A Tale of Two Cities (1958).

1960s: MacBeth (1960), The Greengage Summer (1961), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), The War Lover (1962), Life at the Top (1965).

In addition to these feature films Addinsell wrote a number of scores for episodic shows including Joyce Grenfell Requests of Pleasure (1956 – 4 episodes), Theatre Night (1958 – 1 episode), Saturday Playhouse (1958 – 1 episode), BBC Sunday Night Theatre (1953–1958 – 3 episodes), BBC Sunday Night Play (1962 – 1 episode), Festival (1964 – 1 episode), and The Wednesday Play (1966 – 1 episode). His notable non film score works include Alice in Wonderland, & Through the Looking-Glass, songs and incidental music (1932), March of the United Nations (1942), Journey to Romance, piano and orchestra (1955; revised and adapted from “Invocation”, 1946), Festival for Piano and Orchestra (1947), Tune in G (1943; orchestrated w/piano (or harpsichord) obbligato, 1952), Ring Round the Moon, incidental music (1950), Invitation Waltz, orchestra (1950), The Smokey Mountains Concerto, piano and orchestra (1950), Penny Plain, musical revue (1951), The Globe Revue, musical revue (1952), Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure, musical revue (1955), Southern Rhapsody, orchestra (1958) composed for UK’s Southern Television, The Isle of Apples, orchestra (n.d./1960s) [found after Addinsell’s death wrapped with another work]


Addinsell had a modest canon of just scores with limited commercially available. All we have at this time are a number of compilation albums, which I offer for your consideration. What is good about them is that collectively you obtain a very broad cross section of Addinsell’s canon.

Rumon Gamba conducts the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

addinsellcompilation1This was my first introduction to Addinsell and I believe this compilation album is a very good way for you to explore his canon. Excerpts from many of his finest scores of the 1930s to 1950s are offered including; Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939), the resplendent Warsaw Concerto from Dangerous Moonlight (1941), Love on the Dole (1941), Blithe Spirit (1945), The Black Rose (1950), Scrooge (1951), Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951), The Admirable Crichton (1957) and Out of Clouds (1955).

Kenneth Alwyn conducts the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

addinsellcompilation2This is another excellent compilation album that provides you with a nice exploration of Addinsell’s canon. Included on the album are some of his finest film score efforts, as well as some of his concert pieces, including; Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939), Ring Around The Moon (1950), The Smokey Mountain Concerto (1950), The Isle Of Apples (Date Unknown), The Prince And The Showgirl (1957), Tune in G (1943), Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951), Festival for Piano and Orchestra (1947), Journey to Romance, Piano and Orchestra (1955), Fire Over England (1937), and A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

Kenneth Alwyn conducts the Royal Ballet Symphonia

addinsellcompilation3This is another excellent compilation album that provides you with a nice exploration of Addinsell’s canon. Included on the album are some of his finest film score efforts, as well as some of his concert pieces, including; The Warsaw Concerto (1941), The Sea Devils (1953), The Day Will Dawn (1942), Highly Dangerous (1950), Greengage Summer (1961), Invocation (1946), The Lion Has Wings (1940), The Passionate Friends (1949), Out Of The Clouds (1955) and March of the United Nations (1942).

Kenneth Alwyn conducts the Royal Ballet Symphonia

addinsellcompilation4This is the final compilation album I provide, which offers you with a nice exploration of Addinsell’s canon. Included on the album are some of his finest film score efforts including; Blithe Spirit (1945), Encore (1951), Gaslight (1940), The Passionate Friends (1949), Parisienne, Scrooge (1951), Souther Rhapsody (1958), Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), South Riding (1938), WRNS (1941), and Fire Over England 1937.


1. Burlingame, Jon. Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks. New York: Billboard books, 2000.
2. Richard Addinsell – Wikipedia
3. Richard Addinsell at the Internet Movie Database
4. The Encyclopedia of Film Composers, by Thomas S. Hischak
5. Richard Addinsell Biography by Ross Care: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Richard_Addinsell.aspx
6. Lane, Philip, “British Light Music: Richard Addinsell,” liner notes for Marco Polo compact disc 8.223732.
7. Long, Harry, “Hail, Britannia!, Richard Addinsell: Film Music,” CD reviews, Film Score Monthly Online Magazine, 29 February 2000.
8. “Addinsell, Richard.” International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. 10 May. 2016

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