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The film's working titles were Crescendo, A Magic Flame, The Franz Liszt Story The Life of Franz Liszt, and The Story of Franz Liszt. The film's title card reads "Song Without End The Story of Franz Liszt." The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. The name of Georges Sands is misspelled as "George" in onscreen credits. George Cukor's onscreen credit reads: "Grateful recognition of his generous contribution to this film is herewith extended to Mr. George Cukor." Cukor took over the film's direction from Charles Vidor when Vidor died on June 4, 1959 after completing about fifteen percent of the picture. The film's onscreen credits acknowledge the works of the following composers following the words "the music of" George Frederick Handel, Frdric Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Felix Mendelssohn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Giuseppe Verdi, Niccolo Paganini and Robert Schumann. Selections of their works are heard interspersed throughout the film.
Franz Liszt (22 October 1811-31 July 1886) was a virtuoso pianist and composer born in Raiding, Hungary. A child prodigy, by the time he was middle-aged in the late 1840s, Liszt had created the musical form of the symphonic poem, a new and elastic single-movement form, which many subsequent composers embraced. As in the film, Liszt was involved in a relationship with Marie D'Agoult from 1835-1844. Unlike the film, however, they had three children, who were raised by Liszt's mother after the couple's relationship failed. In 1847, Liszt met Princess Carolyne and retired from the concert stage. In 1848, he settled in Weimar, where he developed the symphonic poem. Carolyne and Liszt attempted to marry in 1860, but on the eve of their wedding, their plans were thwarted by her unsubmitted divorce papers. Liszt, a devout Catholic, retired to Rome in 1861 and joined the Franciscan order in 1865.
According to a December 1956 Los Angeles Examiner news item, Columbia studio head Harry Cohn had wanted to make a film dealing with Liszt's life since 1952. Starting in 1952, a number of writers attempted to tackle the thorny issues of Liszt's life. In June 1952, a Variety news item noted that Oscar Saul was to write the script and William Dieterle was to direct. A December 1952 Los Angeles Times news item noted that Gina Kaus was to write the script. By February 1954, an LAEx^ news item announced that Jerry Wald, at that time an executive producer at Columbia, was preparing a story idea for the film and had hired Emmett Lavery, a Catholic, to write the script. In April 1954 a Daily Variety news item announced that Irving Shulman was to write the script and that Robert Cohn was to replace William Fadiman as producer.
A December 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that all of the scripts for the film would be turned over to Gottfried Reinhardt to produce. Although a May 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Reinhardt was in Los Angeles to confer with Cohn over the completed script, an October 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Columbia had hired Andrew Solt to write the screenplay. According to information contained in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, from March 1953-September 1954, Cohn entered into correspondence with Joseph Breen, head of the PCA, about how to portray Liszt's controversial life. In those letters, Breen continually insisted that the idea of Liszt being "pure of heart" be deemphasized and stressed the need for proper technical advice in dealing with the film's religious angles.
A June 1959 Los Angeles Times news item noted that Victor Aller, the film's musical coordinator, spent three weeks tutoring Dirk Bogarde on how to look as if he were playing the piano. Although the article stated that Sidney Kaye was to play Wagner, the musician was played by Lyndon Brook. According to a May 1958 Los Angeles Examiner news item, pianist Van Cliburn, the young American who had recently won the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, was considered to play the Liszt score. A March 1959 Daily Variety news item noted that Song Without End marked the first time that the L.A. Philharmonic was used to orchestrate a film. Modern sources add Ray Foster and Leola Wendorff to the cast.
An August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film was shot in Vienna after the Soviet Union banned the producers from filming in Hungary, their location of choice. According to a May 1959 New York Times news item, the court concert sequence was filmed at the Shonbrunn Palace in Vienna, the former summer residence of Emperor Franz Josef. The article noted that location shooting was also done at the Schloss Theatre and Esterhazy Castle in Vienna. Production material in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library added that location shooting was also done at the Berndorf and Scala theaters in Vienna.
ISong Without End marked the screen debut of Capucine and the American film debut of Dirk Bogarde. The film won an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Motion Picture. According to a January 1961 Daily Variety news item, Joy Burns, the heir to writer and musician Theodore Kolline, sued Columbia for plagiarism, claiming that in 1946, Kolline had submitted three scripts to the studio based on the life of Liszt, and charging that Song Without End was based on those scripts. In January 1966, a Variety news item noted that the court ruled in favor of the studio. For other films about the life of Liszt, please see entry above for A Song to Remember.