The Film Music of John Addison

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I Was Monty’s Double
A Bridge Too Far
The Maggie
Reach for the Sky
Strange Invaders
The Man Between
Tom Jones
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Brandy for the Parson
Torn Curtain
Touch and Go
Carlton-Browne of the F.O.
Murder, She Wrote

BBC Concert Orchestra
Rumon Gamba

Recorded 4 & 5 October 2006 in the Colosseum, Watford

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: June 2007
Duration: 71 minutes

John Addison (1920-1998) was an outstanding British film and theatre composer and conductor of complete originality. He worked on some of the most famous British films (“Brighton Rock”, “Private’s Progress”, “Look Back in Anger”, “A Taste of Honey”, “Tom Jones”, “A Bridge Too Far”…) before taking up residence in the USA where he mainly contributed scores to television programmes and long-running series. Perhaps undervalued by Hollywood and the TV industry, he was nonetheless superbly prolific and at least one of his television themes, that for Angela Lansbury’s “Murder, She Wrote” has a lasting place in TV history. It won many industry awards and its playfully catchy tune will never be forgotten. It is included on this excellent CD tribute to the composer.

Playfulness was often Addison’s forte in his writing for films. Think of his overture to “Tom Jones”, Tony Richardson’s film of John Osborne’s screenplay, for which Addison won an Oscar, and you have this composer in a nutshell, a jolly, romping farcical first-subject in counterpoint with a more romantic secondary theme and a bombastic final tune that, when put together, sum up the characters and the general ambience of the film, a mixture of comedy, action and lusty bawdiness. There’s a similarly quirky opening to “Carlton-Browne of the F.O.”, the Boulting Brothers film that sent up the British Foreign Office. Addison’s opening-titles march is a composite that pictures the British diplomat abroad in all his stiff upper lip would-be authority with a skewed comic edge that suggests feet of clay.

There are more stiff-upper-lips in the music that Addison composed for such typically British war films as “I Was Monty’s Double”, Richard Attenborough’s “A Bridge Too Far” (for which Addison won a BAFTA award) and Lewis Gilbert’s “Reach for the Sky”, the last score being a very popular choice on the BBC Light Programme “Family Favourites” in the late 1950s. Addison’s score for Carol Reed’s “A Man Between” depicted the Cold War in post-war Berlin with a suitably eerie quality, while later on his score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain” provided a very Russian-sounding main theme march that reappears throughout the film in various guises at moments of high tension.

This score shows how Addison fashioned his music to fit the overall atmosphere of the film. He was, however, not Hitchcock’s first choice as composer, as the director was still working with the legendary Bernard Herrmann. The reason he fired Herrmann was said to be because the composer refused to write a hit tune for the music charts (c.f. ‘Que Sera Sera’, from Hitch’s 1956 version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”). The second choice was Dimitri Tiomkin, but he was passed over in favour of John Addison who reported that Hitch was not overly interested in the music and that, when a theme song, ‘The Green Years’ was duly written, it was not used in the film.

Perhaps the culmination in Addison’s war themes is his score for Tony Richardson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade, which opens with a phrase from ‘Rule, Britannia!’ before going into Addison’s own delicately wrought themes, here presented as a suite. This was probably one of the (many) times that Addison’s music was far superior to the film.

The selection here gives a good idea of Addison’s range and abilities. The BBC Concert Orchestra under Rumon Gamba produces a sparkling sound that shows off the music to its best advantage, while the recording is suitably bright and airy. There are some premiere recordings here of music that most of us will not know outside of seeing the films. These include “I Was Monty’s Double”, “Brandy for the Parson”, “Touch and Go”, “Carlton-Browne of the F.O.” and the TV mini-series “Centennial”. With over a hundred film and television scores to his name, there should be more music from Addison’s pen that deserves committing to CD. This always-impressive composer gave writing music for the movies a definite cachet and he was never less than a superb craftsman.

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