The Sunday Section: Music - Warsaw Concerto

When I first heard this piece, I didn’t realise it had been written specifically for a film, the 1941 ‘Dangerous Moonlight’. It goes without saying that I’ve never seen the film, and to be completely honest, had never heard of it.

(opening credits)

(opening credits)

The film is about the Polish struggle against the Nazi invasion in 1939. It tells the story of a Polish concert pianist and composer, Stefan Radetzky, and an American reporter, Carol Peters. As the danger to Poland grows, Stefan decides to become a fighter pilot. Following an air raid in Warsaw, Carol comes across Stefan playing the piano in a bombed-out building. He is playing the opening of his ‘Warsaw Concerto’, a piece he is still working on. As the film progresses, the piece is never played in its entirety but only revealed in fragments.

Carol (Sally Gray) and Stefan (Anton Walbrook)

Carol (Sally Gray) and Stefan (Anton Walbrook)

The actual composer of the piece was a Londoner, Richard Addinsell. He had, at first, studied law before embracing a career in music.

Richard Addinsell

Richard Addinsell

The original plan had been to use Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ‘Second Piano Concerto’, but, either due to copyright issues or the cost, that plan was shelved. Because of that, Addinsell had the idea to compose a piece that mirrored Rachmaninoff’s style. This is most obvious in the slower theme that follows the striking opening as it is very reminiscent of the 2nd movement of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Second Piano Concerto’; I’ve included that 2nd movement of his piano concerto for comparison's sake.