John Addison (1920-99) is best known for his film scores, including Reach for the Sky, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Entertainer and Private’s Progress. More recently he composed the theme tune to the long running TV series Murder She Wrote (1984-96). Of great importance are his concert works which include the ballet score Carte Blanche, a Trumpet Concerto and a Partita for string orchestra. Addison’s music, whether for the recital room or for the screen is always approachable and well-crafted.
Brief Biography of John Addison:
- Born in West Chobham, Surrey on 16 March 1920.
- Hailing from a military family, Addison attended Wellington School in Berkshire where the children of many servicemen were educated
- Entered the Royal College of Music in 1936 where he studied clarinet with Frederick Thurston, oboe with Leon Goossens, piano with Herbert Fryer and composition with Gordon Jacob.
- Served in the 23rd Hussars during the Second World War. Saw action in Normandy and at Arnhem during 1944.
- Returned to the RCM in 1946 to complete his studies. He won the Sullivan Prize in 1948.
- Wrote his first significant concert piece, the Woodwind Sextet in 1949 which was first performed at the 1951 International Society for Contemporary Music in Frankfurt.
- Composed the Trumpet Concerto in 1949, performed in 1950.
- Wrote music for his first film score, the dance orchestrations for Brighton Rock (1949) at the behest of Roy Boulting. The main score was by Hans May.
- Composed his first complete film score Seven Days to Noon, released in 1950.
- Returned to the Royal College of Music as Professor of Composition between 1950 and 1957.
- The ballet Carte Blanche with score by John Addison first performed at the 1953 Edinburgh Festival
- Composed the incidental music for John Osborne’s play The Entertainer starring Olivier in 1957. Was later involved in the 1960 film version. Was known as the ‘Angry Young Man’s Composer’.
- Wrote the film score to Reach for the Sky (1956) starring Kenneth More playing Douglas Bader. Bader was the composer’s brother-in-law.
- Completed the Wellington Suite for two horns and piano concertante and orchestra in 1961.
- Score written for the film Tom Jones. It won an Oscar in 1963 for the ‘Best Original Score.’
- Relocated to Los Angeles in 1975 where he worked on several scores for television.
- Composed his final film score, Code Name: Emerald in 1985 and music for the TV mini-series Phantom of the Opera in 1990.
- Bassoon Concertino completed in 1998.
- John Addison died, aged 78 years on 7 December 1998 in Bennington, Vermont.
Five Key Works
I have deliberately chosen four ‘concert’ works here as well as one film score. These works are all available on CD or download. It seems a bad idea to recommend pieces that cannot be heard. There are several other works that would appear to demand interest and possible professional recording. I note these as at the end of this list.
- Concerto for trumpet strings and percussion (1949)
- Divertimento for brass quartet, op.9 (1951)
- Carte Blanche: Ballet Suite (1953)
- Reach for the Sky: Film Score (1956)
- Partita (1961)
- Bassoon Concertino (1998)
Other works that demand a professional recording include the Wellington Suite, Harlequin for saxophone and piano, the Sextet for woodwind, a Sinfonietta, a Rhapsody for cor anglais and string orchestra, the Trio for flute, oboe and piano and a Serenade for wind quintet and harp.
There is no formal biography of John Addison. Information must be drawn from Grove’s Dictionary, obituaries, reviews and record sleeves. He does not yet have an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
If you can only listen to two CDs featuring John Addison’s music:
Addison, John, The Film Music of John Addison, I was Monty’s Double: March; Centennial: main theme; Swashbuckler: suite; A Bridge too Far; The Maggie: song of the Maggie; Reach for the Sky; Strange Invaders; The Man Between; Tom Jones: overture; The Charge of the Light Brigade: suite; Brandy for the Parson: Opening and closing titles; Torn Curtain: Titles; Touch and Go: Mirror Waltz; Sleuth: overture; Carlton-Browne of the F.O.; Murder, She Wrote: main theme. BB Concert Orchestra/Rumon Gamba CHANDOS CHAN 10418, 2007.
Addison, John, The Composer Conducts, Carte Blanche: ballet suite, includes Alan Rawsthorne’s Street Corner Overture and Madame Chrysathème: Suite; Richard Arnell’s The Great Detective: ballet suite, Pro Arte Orchestra; Arthur Bliss’ Checkmate: ballet suite, Sinfonia of London; Malcolm Arnold’s A Grand, Grand Overture, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI Classics CDM 764718-2, 1993.
And finally, if you have only time to hear one work:
Carte Blanche: ballet suite (1953)
This entertaining Suite was derived from the ballet ‘divertissement’ first performed at the !953 Edinburgh Festival. It is a vibrant and bright score that holds up well in the concert hall. It has been criticised as being uneven in invention, but the humour and occasional poignancy of the score (especially the Romanza) makes up for a lot. Some of the lively, clownish music nods to Shostakovich.