Cast & Crew
Leaving behind Paris and the acclaim of the music world, eighteenth century piano virtuoso Franz Liszt settles in Switzerland with his mistress, Countess Marie D'Agoult, who abandoned her husband for the pianist. Although they have two children, Marie and Franz are at odds because Marie wants Franz to give up performing for composing, and Franz, who is torn between the glory of music and the glory of God, resents Marie's opposition to their children being raised in the Catholic faith. One evening, Franz's manager Potin and friends, Georges Sand and Frédéric Chopin, arrive and tell him that his fame has been usurped by the upstart pianist Thalberg. Overcome with professional jealousy, Franz instructs Potin to arrange a recital for him in Paris on the very night that Thalberg is performing. In Paris, as Franz triumphantly returns to the stage, Thalberg's concert hall is nearly empty. Among the few patrons are Princess Carolyne Wittgenstein and her husband Prince Nicholas of Russia. Canceling the concert, Thalberg sends his meager audience to Franz's recital, where Princess Carolyne is transfixed by his fiery performance. Princess Carolyne and Prince Nicholas go backstage to congratulate Franz, and when Carolyne mentions that they are on their way to Vienna for the opera season, Franz, smitten by the princess, rationalizes going to Vienna by offering to perform a charity concert there for the people of Hungary, his homeland. In Vienna, Franz greets his mother, a devout Catholic, and admits that he is torn between his desire for the cloistered life of the monastery and his thirst for acclaim. After Franz's Vienna concert, Nicholas invites him to play for the court in St. Petersburg and Franz follows Carolyne there. When the Czar disrupts Franz's performance by coming in late and talking, the pianist storms out of the room, but Carolyne persuades him to return by asking him to play for her. Continuing on to Dresden to perform, Franz is displeased when Marie unexpectedly arrives. After Marie pleads with him to return to her, Franz explodes in fury and walks out. Proceeding to the opera house, Franz hears composer Richard Wagner rehearsing a score. Impressed, Franz asks to read the score, but Wagner, who had previously been rebuffed by Franz, upbraids the pianist for being "drunk with applause." After Marie leaves him, Franz, tired of performing, instructs Potin to cancel the tour. To motivate Franz to continue, Potin reminds him that Carolyne is in Kiev. There an anonymous patron offers Franz money to play at the cathedral. Stating that he would never charge to play for God, Franz refuses the sum and performs for free. After his recital is over, Franz finds Carolyn at the altar praying, and she confides that she put up the fee. Mentioning that her husband is away, she asks him to come to her home and play for her. As they flirt and verbally joust, Franz admits that he has traveled all over Europe to play for her alone. When he kisses her, however, she demurs, saying that she believes in God and Liszt. Franz then invites her to his attend his recital in Odessa, where, after finishing his performance, he closes the piano and announces that his public career is over. Afterward, Nicholas, aware that Franz is romantically interested in Carolyne, insults the composer. Declaring that Carolyne is heaven's instrument, Franz leaves, after which Carolyne informs her husband that she is going to ask the Czar for permission to divorce. Before departing, Carolyne persuades Franz to accept the position of Music Director of Weimar, a city under the jurisdiction of the Czar's sister, the Grand Duchess. Although the Grand Duchess disapproves of Franz's reputation as a womanizer, she agrees to pressure her brother to grant Carolyne a divorce. Soon after Franz arrives in Weimer, Marie comes to see him, and he informs her that he is going to marry Carolyne. Their conversation is interrupted when the Grand Duchess summons Franz to inform him that the Czar has refused the divorce. After she asks him to meet Carolyne in Vienna, Franz hurries there, even though the city is in the midst of a revolution. Franz takes Carolyne to Hungary to meet his mother, and is surprised to discover that Marie and the children are also there. When Franz steps outside the house to meet an adoring crowd, Marie warns Carolyne that he will never marry her because the audience is his true love. Upon returning to Weimar with Franz, Carolyne offers to turn over all her property to Nicholas in exchange for a divorce. Nicholas finally agrees, but when Franz and Carolyne go to the archbishop to arrange the wedding, the prelate refuses to conduct the ceremony and calls Franz a libertine. Determined to marry Franz, Carolyne decides to travel to Rome to petition the Pope for an annulment, and before leaving, asks Franz to compose a piece of music as her wedding gift. In her absence, Franz composes "Liebestraum," and is rewarded by a letter from Carolyne stating that the Pope has annulled her marriage. Renouncing the stage and "vulgar exhibitionism," Franz travels to Rome, where he publicly plays "Liebestraum" and several other pieces for the first time. On the eve of their wedding, the Russian ambassador requests an audience with the Pope to discuss the annulment. Soon after, the priest who was to marry them delivers a document overturning the annulment on the grounds that Carolyne lied that she was a minor when she married Nicholas. Resolute, Carolyne declares that she realizes they were never meant to wed, and that she was sent to Franz to lead him back to God. Now aware that they will never find happiness together, Franz enters the monastery to seek absolution.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Carter Dehaven Jr.
James Wong Howe
Charles Lang Jr.
William A. Lyon
George Von Block
Song Without End
The idea for a film biography of Liszt can be traced to the success of Columbia Pictures' biography of his rival, Frederic Chopin, A Song to Remember (1945). Musician Theodore Kolline submitted three screenplays to the studio in 1946, but the project didn't really begin in earnest until 1952, when studio head Harry Cohn announced plans for the film. For the next seven years, it went through various writers and producers before finally going into production under William Goetz' independent production company, which released films through Columbia. He chose Charles Vidor, a Columbia veteran most noted for Gilda (1946), to direct Song Without End on locations around Europe. When the Soviet Union refused permission to shoot in Liszt's native Hungary, they settled on the palaces of Vienna instead.
For leading man, Goetz chose Dirk Bogarde, England's leading matinee idol. Since he was actively seeking more challenging roles (his home studio, Rank, had recently refused to let him take the lead in the 1958 film version of Look Back in Anger), Bogarde jumped at the role and his first opportunity to work on a U.S. film. He studied for weeks with pianist Victor Aller, who became a close friend, so that Vidor could film his hands at the piano. For leading lady, the company chose former model Capucine to make her film debut; she had been making a name for herself as agent/producer Charles Feldman's mistress and the hostess of his Hollywood parties. After announcing young piano sensation Van Cliburn would record the piano solos, the studio ended up using Jorge Bolet, while the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in its first film soundtrack appearance, would record Liszt's orchestral music.
The film production did not get off to a good start. Bogarde and Capucine hated the script and found Vidor unreasonable and often foul-tempered. He repeatedly screamed at her to relax and, according to Bogarde, at one point "shook Capucine like a dead cat." The co-stars frequently escaped the horrors of filming for picnics in the Austrian countryside, prompting rumors linking the gay actor with his bisexual leading lady. Then the director died of a heart attack (some said it occurred while he was having an affair with an extra). Far from mournful, Bogarde wrote his family that he was relieved and even optimistic when he met Vidor's replacement, George Cukor.
At the time, Cukor was in the middle of a career slump. He had been finishing work on Heller in Pink Tights (1960) when Goetz asked him to take over Song Without End. Both he and Bogarde were friends of British actress Kay Kendall, which helped them bond quickly. Cukor's usual attention to his leading ladies also gave him a strong rapport with Capucine. Moreover, he impressed the stars when he arrived on the set with a well-thumbed copy of Sacheverall Sitwell's Life of Liszt, published in 1934. He immediately replaced cinematographer James Wong Howe with Charles Lang, had Jean Louis' out-of-period costumes replaced with more accurate fashions and decided to have Anna Lee re-dub Patricia Morison's lines as George Sand, deeming Morison's voice too feminine for the role. His biggest challenge, though was rewriting the script. When he asked his friend Walter Bernstein to sign on for re-writes, the writer looked over the original and said, "My best advice to you is to get rid of Dirk Bogarde and get [comic] Sid Caesar. Then, just film the script." After extensive wooing by Feldman, he finally agreed to do re-writes. By that point, however, the film was so far behind schedule that all he and Cukor could do was doctor each scene as it came time to film it, leaving most of the script's structure intact.
Although Vidor had only shot about 15 percent of Song Without End, Cukor felt the entire project was not his conception nor anything he would have done on his own so he refused a directing credit. Instead, the film bore a special title card reading "Grateful recognition of his generous contribution to this film is herewith extended to Mr. George Cukor." That proved to be a wise choice when the film opened to mixed reviews. Although most critics praised the location shooting and the score (which would go on to win an Oscar®), there was little praise for the screenplay.
The composer's life would be given more faithful depictions in the 1970 Hungarian-Russian co-production The Loves of Liszt and the 1982 Hungarian mini-series Liszt Ferenc. By contrast, Ken Russell's epically self-indulgent Lisztomania (1975), starring Roger Daltrey as a pop idol version of the composer, would make Song Without End look like a documentary.
Producer: William Goetz
Director: Charles Vidor, George Cukor (uncredited)
Screenplay: Oscar Millard, Walter Bernstein (uncredited)
Cinematography: James Wong Howe, Charles Lang (uncredited)
Music: Morris Stoloff, Harry Sukman
Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Franz Liszt), Capucine (Princess Carolyne), Genevieve Page (Countess Marie), Patricia Morison (George Sand), Martita Hunt (Grand Duchess), Lou Jacobi (Potin), Marcel Dalio (Chelard), Katherine Squire (Anna Liszt)
by Frank Miller
Song Without End
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, Frédéric 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.
Released in United States Fall October 1960
Released in United States on Video June 24, 1992
Director Charles Vidor died during shooting.
Released in United States on Video June 24, 1992
Released in United States Fall October 1960