Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT – Richard Addinsell



Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1940 Great Britain was in the midst of WWII’s Blitz and the British production unit of RKO Radio Pictures conceived of a story of a classical concert pianist who joins the war effort to become a fighter pilot. Financial backing was secured, William Sistrom was assigned production, and Terrence Young (who would later go on to direct the James Bond films Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball) was hired to write an original screenplay, with contributions by Rodney Ackland and Brian Desmond Hurst. Hurst also was tasked with directing and assembled a cast which included Anton Walbrook as Stefan Radetzky, Sally Gray as Carole Peters Radecka, John Laurie as a British Commander. Guy Middleton as Shorty, Cecil Parker as Specialist, and Derrick De Marney as Mike Carroll.

The story is set during the direst time of WWII where the United Kingdom is fighting for its survival during the Nazi Blitz. It explores the tale of a Polish airman and concert pianist Stephan Radecki ,who composes his “Warsaw Concerto” as he hides in the city as the Germans bomb it into the stone age. He flees and makes his way to England where he meets and falls in love with American reporter Carole Peters. He gives a London concert where he reveals afterwards that he has decided to avenge his country for what was done to Warsaw. He joins the RAF and during his final mission sacrifices himself to bring down a German fighter. He is badly injured and suffers from amnesia from head trauma. He slowly recovers in a London hospital with his memory gradually returning, finally coming back when one day he relates to Carole: “Carole, it’s not safe to go out with you when the moon is so bright,” which are the first words he ever spoke to her. The film was released with a different title in America, “Suicide Squadron,” and it was a commercial success, but received unfavorable reviews from critics. The film failed to earn any Academy Award nominations.

Film score lore holds that legendary Russian classical composer Sergei Rachmaninov was approached with the proposition of interpolating his Second Piano Concerto or possibly writing a new composition for the film. Composer Mischa Spoliansky was also approached. However, both composers declined and so director Brian Desmond Hurst turned to English composer Richard Addinsell whom he had enjoyed collaborating with on The Lion Has Wings in 1939. Given that the creative team were seeking music with the timeless romanticism of Rachmaninov, Addinsell immersed himself in his concert works, from which he drew inspiration. He then composed a piano concerto, which has passed into legend, with many critics asserting that it was the most significant classical piece written in the United Kingdom during the war.

The centerpiece of the score, and unifying thread of the film’s narrative is the Warsaw Concerto. It is comprised of three movements; Allegro Con Spirito, Romanza, and Allegro Moderato Presto. The Romanza dominates the film and offers Stefan and Carol’s Love Theme, which is the emotional core of the score. Its melody was inspired by Stefan’s love for Carol, his muse. The theme expresses yearning borne by piano and strings romantico so full of longing. When it blossoms atop strings appassionato it soars, often achieving a grand testament to love, which is breath-taking. Also prominent are the dazzling ornate and note rich piano cadenzas, which offer breath-taking piano virtuosity. Given the concert setting of the film, Addinsell interpolated a number of classical pieces into the score’s tapestry, including; Chopin’s Polonaise No. 1 in A Major Opus 40, Wagner’s Bridal Chorus from “Lohengrin,” Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 in A -flat Major (A Dream of Love), and the Irish folk song “The Rose of Tralee”. Lastly, given that there is no commercial album for reference, I will use film scene descriptors and time indices instead.

We open with a grand declaration of the concerto’s Main Theme by sumptuous strings romantico, which support the display of the RKO Pictures studio logo. At 0:11 we segue into “Main Title” as the film title displays, carried by the soaring romance of the Main Theme. At 0:22 the roll of the opening credits commences supported by an Aerial Motif as we see a squadron of bombers flying through billowy cloudscapes. At 0:35 we return to the Concerto’s Main Theme on sumptuous strings romantico, closing with script which reads; “London November 1940”. We enter the film proper at 1:11 with “Memories Lost” where two physicians discuss finding a way to end Stefan’s amnesia so as to restore his virtuoso pianist brilliance. Harsh, random discordant chords and strikes flow from the room next door where Stefan pounds on the piano aimlessly. Carol tenderly keeps humming him the immortal melody in hope of triggering his memory. At 2:38 the physicians are stunned as they hear the “Warsaw Concerto” borne anew on the piano.

The camera zooms in on Stefan’s face and we segue at 3:48 into “Warsaw 1939” atop a grand sweeping statement pf the concerto’s Main Theme. We see bomb explosions and buildings crumbling into rubble as a diminuendo of death unfolds. At 4:36 Carol hears a piano cadenza passage being played and walks to it through the rubble. She finds Stefan playing and he asks her to come in. They make their introductions as he continues his virtuoso playing, which he says helps to calm his nerves. The music is severed when he stands up angrily after she rebukes him for playing the piano when he should be flying to defend his country. After he says he had been flying for nine hours and lost all but two of his pilots, she is contrite and apologizes. At 8:06 he returns to the piano and resumes the sumptuous romance of the cadenza as she lights his cigarette, sits down, and then begins a probing tête-à-tête. She is clearly smitten with him, and he stops playing, saying this was as far as he got. He resumes playing, their eyes, now both full of longing lock, and the concerto’s romantic Main Theme takes form and surges passionately. She stands up, feeling uncomfortable but he asks her to stay saying she just gave him something lovely.

At 9:48 we segue into “Love is Born” as he asks her to listen, and he plays for her the yearning A Phrase of his piano concerto, so full of romantic longing. They again lock eyes as he speaks to her with the piano, but the moment is shattered by a bomb blast that rocks the building, sending both to the floor. Afterwards they kiss and the scene fades to black. At 10:38 we segue into “Suicide Mission” as the last remnants of Poland’s airmen assemble to hear a mission briefing. A repeating phrase of Polonaise No. 1 in A Major by Chopin on xylophone plays over the radio, a sign to Poles that Warsaw remains free. The commander asks for volunteers for a suicide mission, a last final strike of defiance against the Germans before Poland falls. Stefan is rejected and ordered to Romania as he is a national treasure. At 15:50 we segue into “The Flight to Romania” as Stefan flies to safety, carried by a reprise of Chopin’s Polonaise No. 1. We see the ruins of bombed cities below and he swears to return some day.

We change scenes to New York six months later where high society prepares for a concert with renown Polish pianist Stefan Radetzky who recently escaped from an internment camp in Romania. Carol is brought to him and shocked when he responds as if he does not know her. Yet when she brings up the moonlight that evening in Warsaw, he remembers her, warms, and says he knew they would meet again one day. The next evening, they meet for drinks, dinner and to reacquaint in “An Evening Together,” a romantic score highlight. Music enters at 21:48 as a soft romance for strings with woodwind adornment as he informs her of his plan to return to Poland. She realizes that it is very late and rushes to leave saying she cannot be late to work in the morning. He is disappointed and at 23:07 a flute triste emotes the A Phrase of the concerto. Yet after he asks when he see her again, she turns to him, they embrace, kiss and he proposes marriage as strings d’amore blossom. She is overcome with happiness and says yes, much to his delight.

At 24:10 we segue into “Stefan Meets Daddy” where the newlyweds arrive during a party carried by festive swing source music. She leaves him in the study where he meets her gruff father. When she returns, they awkwardly inform him that they were married an hour ago. He accepts it happily and the tension in the room dissipates. He then helps them to slip out as her mother has not been informed. At 28:02 we segue into “Honeymoon” as they drive to the family cabin. She insists, he carry her across the threshold, which he lovingly does. Inside he finds a piano and plays the Wagner’s Bridal Chorus “Here Comes the Bride,” but she asks him for something more sentimental and so he plays the romantic “Liebestraum No. 3 by Liszt as they hum while she rests her head on his shoulder. The next day as they prepare for a walk in the forest the phone rings and it is Mike. She informs him that they are married, and Mr. De Guise informs her that the concert has been moved up a day and that they must return at once. This spoils her honeymoon, and she agrees to come back tomorrow. Stefan is also disappointed, but they accept their fate.

At 33:15 we segue into “The Concerto Reborn” a romantic score highlight, where we are graced by the stirring romanticism of the concerto Love Theme. Carol wakes up in bed after hearing Stefan playing the piano downstairs. We hear the molto romantico Love Theme of the concerto and after she opens the bedroom door the music, no longer muffled envelops her with his love. The twinkling cadenza carries her down the stairs and he asks her tenderly, if she remembers this. He said he woke having regained the melody in his dreams and so came down to play lest he forget it again. He says his heart almost stopped when she came down the stairs, adding, “This is your melody”. He adds he never plays it without thinking of her, without her deep in his heart as she kisses his head. When she asks how he intends to end it, he answers “Happily, I hope.” She inquires why and he answers that “the music is the story of the two of them in Warsaw, of us in America, of us in… Where else I do not know. That is why I cannot finish it.” He stops playing, and we see that she is pensive, and says that although in many ways they remain strangers, she hopes that they will always be happy together. He wistfully recalls his homeland and how much he loved flying as he felt that he was in another world filled with the beauty of the earth below and the stars above.

At 32:19 we segue atop a dazzling piano cadenza into “Preparations” where we see Stefan and Mike sitting in a railroad car as Stefan writes musical script. A montage of scenes unfolds of him playing in concert halls across the country to wildly applauding audiences. Addinsell supports with the ornate dazzling cadenzas, and passionate romantic phrases of his concerto. On the train a new dramatic, yet aggrieved musical narrative supports a montage of headlines and images of war, including flashbacks to Warsaw and Stefan flying, as country after country falls to the Nazi war machine. His words “I’ll be back one day” are heard in his mind. The tour montage resumes, again supported by the various passages of his concerto. Music ends as we shift to the hotel room where Mike is packing, having informed Stefan that he is returning to the fight, which breaks his promise that they would go together. Stefan is further upset when Carol enters and admits that she hid this from him, fearing that he would also go. At the train station, Carol sees Mike off, and he admits that part of why he is leaving is that he is in love with her. Back at the hotel Stefan is conflicted, but Carol speaks passionately of his gift, saying anyone can fly a plane, but very few can create beautiful music like he does. He is thankful for her support, and they kiss to end the scene.

Back in New York Stefan buys a paper, which reveals the Nazis have taken Paris. He seeks counsel from Carol’s father who supports his decision to return to the war as a patriotic imperative. At 50:05 we segue into “Stefan’s Decision” where we see Stefan’s pre-concert warm up playing Chopin’s Polonaise No. 1. Carol pleads for him not to play it as it reminds her of their last days in Warsaw, but he counters; “That’s why I play it.” He joins her in the bedroom and discloses that he is leaving for England in the morning to rejoin the war. She tries to dissuade him, but he is resolved to go as he can no longer sit by and do nothing. She plays her last card by disclosing that Mike informed her that the lottery was fixed as all the other pilots wanted you to survive because you meant something to your country. She adds, if you go their sacrifice is in vain. He is clearly affected by the disclosure, but responds by saying “Nothing can stop me now.”

At 52:49 we segue into “The Concert,” a magnificent score highlight where the score achieves its emotional apogee. We open with the usual orchestra tune up as Carol and her father take their seats. The concert program displays Beethoven’s Concerto in E – The Emperor, followed by Schumann’s Concerto in A Minor, and closing with the world premiere performance of his own Warsaw Concerto. At 53:43 we are graced by the first movement of the concerto, Allegro Con Spirito, which abounds surging ardent strings appassionato and three gloriously rich piano cadenzas At 56:32 we flow into the Romanza, where Stefan’s and Carol’s yearning Love Theme unfolds on piano so full of longing. At 56:56 the music blossoms passionately on sumptuous strings romantico as Carol looks on. At 57:13 we enter the third movement Allegro Moderato Presto atop gloriously ornate piano cadenzas. The yearning Love Theme, so full of longing reprises and unleashes an unbridled crescendo romantico by ardent strings, which ends with love’s triumph. A standing ovation crowns his performance. Bravo!

He comes back on stage to thank the people of America for helping his country, and then sits down for an encore performance saying he would play one last piece, the last music to come out of free Warsaw, a testament that Poland was still alive. We segue at 59:41 into “Poland Lives” where we a graced by an inspired performance of Chopin’s Polonaise No. 1. A distraught Carol’s face reveals she will soon lose Stefan, something she cannot bear as so she departs, unable to revisit the memories the piece brings. In the cab Stefan’s encore is playing and a tearful and distraught Carol shouts at the cabman to shut off the radio. At 1:00:33 we segue into “Carol’s Sadness” atop a plaintive statement of the Love Theme as she ascends the stairs of her parent’s home. Her father finds her weeping in her bedroom and consoles her, counselling her to apologize for her harsh words to Stefan. At 1:02:47 strings full of intensity joined by harp glissandi propel her down the stairs to a cab. The musical narrative shifts to one of desperate longing as she searches the apartment and then the cabin. He is not there either and at 1:04:02 strings tristi, an aching flute and harp glissandi emote the Love Theme. As she descends the stairs in despair, the harp glissandi swell and become dominant, only to dissipate as the aching romance of the violin borne Love Theme returns as she reaches the piano, realizing that they have parted without saying goodbye.

We shift to England where Stefan lands a fighter and joins Mike for lunch. At 1:07:47 we segue into “Card Game,” and as they play Mike hums the Irish folk song “The Rose of Tralee”. Afterwards Mike and Stefan argue when Carol is accidentally brought up. Stefan says it is over, while Mike exhorts him to reconcile. A siren ends the discussion as Mike heads to his plane. In the air Mike again hums “The Rose of Tralee”. Back at the base we segue into “Mike is Dead” at 1:10:59 as a despondent Stefan plays “The Rose of Tralee” on piano as a lament, while the men reminisce over the loss of Mike. Later the commander asks Stefan to take care of Mike’s belongings and leaves him in his room. As he sits to read the pile of letters, a plaintive “The Rose of Tralee” plays softly in the background. He reads a letter from Carol who is so desperate to see Stefan again that she has sailed to England. Tears flow from Stefan’s face to inform us of his feelings.

Later a siren sounds alerting of approaching German bombers and Stefan joins the other men mounting their fighter planes. They encounter the Germans and an intense aerial battle ensues. After downing two bombers, Stefan’s machine guns fail while engaging a third. He dives, and makes a suicide attack on the bomber, exploding in a fireball. At 1:19:40 we conclude with “Finale and End Credits” as we see in a flashback to Warsaw 1939, Stefan sitting at a piano playing the Romanza Love Theme of his concerto, only to stop as a distraught Carol walks away. He calls to her; “It is not safe to be out tonight when the moon is so bright”. She turns, smiles, walks to him as she enters his welcoming embrace, where they kiss, crowned by a final, grand performance of the Love Theme. The film closes atop a crescendo dramatico, which supports the end credits

Sadly, there is no commercial CD or digital release of the full score for Dangerous Moonlight, which means we have yet another film score calling for a restoration. Until that day we must be content with its beauty by watching the movie. Below you will find information on the compilation album “The Film Music of Richard Addinsell,” which features an eight and one half minute rendering of the Warsaw Concerto conducted by Rumon Gamba with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, in addition to selections from numerous additional Addinsell scores including Scrooge, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Love On The Dole, The Black Rose, The Admirable Crichton, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Blithe Spirit, and Out Of The Clouds. I recommend this compilation album as a good introduction to a wonderfully talented composer.

The track opens with a piano carried introductory prelude, from which is unleashed three waves of surging ardent strings appassionato. Then three gloriously ornate piano cadenzas surge, followed by a decrescendo with a descending contour of sadness, which ushers in at 1:57 the concerto’s yearning A Phrase, so full of longing. The phrase is repeated twice by piano, before blossoming, empowered by sumptuous strings romantico. A twinkling piano bridge with a stepped descent commences at 2:55, eventually surging like a fast-flowing stream, which dissipates as it enters a lake. At 3:53 we flow into the B Phrase, which emotes with an ascending contour of hopeful romanticism. We then flow at 4:43 into the more forthright and expressive C Phrase joined by strings d’Amore. At 5:53 surging ardent strings are unleashed, again joined by three gloriously ornate piano cadenzas, which slowly dissipate until the yearning A Phrase reprises, now blossoming for a grand statement atop soaring strings appassianato. At 7:31 ardent strings unleash an unbridled crescendo romantico, which concludes the concerto with love triumphant. Bravo!

Addinsell realized upon viewing the film that this was an intimate love story between two people forged during a brutal war. Yet it was more than a love story as Carol was not only Stefan’s lover, but his muse. While he loved her physically, his concerto expressed his love for her very soul. In a masterstroke Addinsell, who was tasked to create a concerto in the style of renown Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov, succeeded in composing a concerto, which earns him, immortality. His Concerto offers sumptuous harmonies, cascading scales, powerful chordal movement, ornate and dazzling piano cadenzas, a glorious confluence of surging strings appassionato and piano d’amore, replete with grand and sweeping molto romantico gestures. The tapestry of Desmond Hurst’s film would have unraveled without the unifying musical narrative of the concerto. In scene after scene, it offers the quintessential romantic testament of fervent undying love. Folks, Addinsell’s concerto singularly supported the love story of this film, offering a stirring romanticism, which leaves an indelible memory on the viewer after viewing the film. I believe the concerto has passed unto legend, earning its entry into the hallowed halls of the Pantheon of great film music. I believe the score to be one of the finest of the Golden Age, and I highly recommend you experience it with the Chandos album, and the film.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the magnificent Warsaw Concerto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVbCTDVe94A

Buy the Dangerous Moonlight soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles and School Song (3:22) from “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1939)
  • In the Mountains (5:34) from “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1939)
  • Finale (1:28) from “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1939)
  • Warsaw Concerto (8:25) from “Dangerous Moonlight” (1941)
  • Main Titles / Sally Awakes (4:20) from “Love on the Dole” (1941)
  • Courting Couples (4:42) from “Love on the Dole” (1941)
  • Blackpool Outing (1:53) from “Love on the Dole” (1941)
  • End Titles (1:47) from “Love on the Dole” (1941)
  • Prelude (5:01) from “Blithe Spirit” (1945)
  • Waltz (4:53) from “Blithe Spirit” (1945)
  • Main Titles and Opening Scene (2:07) from “The Black Rose” (1950)
  • In the Empress’s Palace (2:50) from “The Black Rose” (1950)
  • The Black Rose Theme (2:47) from “The Black Rose” (1950)
  • Suite (13:59) from “Scrooge” (1951)
  • Overture (7:40) from “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” (1951)
  • Polka and Galop (1:43) from “The Admirable Crichton” (1957)
  • Waltz Sequence (3:57) from “The Admirable Crichton” (1957)
  • The Flame Tango (2:30) from “Out of the Clouds” (1955)

Running Time: 78 minutes 58 seconds

Chandos CHAN-10046 (1941/2003)

Music composed by Richard Addinsell. Conducted by Rumon Gamba. Performed byThe BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Original orchestrations on Dangerous Moonlight by Richard Addinsell and Roy Douglas. Recorded and mixed by Stephen Rinker. Score produced by Richard Addinsell and Muir Mathieson. Album produced by Brian Pidgeon and Mike George.

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