Home > Reviews > COPERNICUS’ STAR – Abel Korzeniowski

COPERNICUS’ STAR – Abel Korzeniowski

copernicusstarOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2009 for A Single Man, I – like many other film music fans no doubt – went to his website to see who this hitherto unknown composer was and where he came from. There was a section on his site housing MP3s from his previous scores, one of which was the intriguingly titled Copernicus’ Star. Again, no doubt like many others, I was absolutely enthralled and captivated by the staggeringly good music from this unknown, mysterious film. One of the others who had a similar reaction was soundtrack producer Dan Goldwasser, who has since worked with the good people at La La Land Records to get a full soundtrack release – the result of which is this excellent album.

Copernicus’ Star (Gwiazda Kopernika) is a Polish-language animated film for children directed by Zdzislaw Kudla and Andrzej Orzechowski, which tells an abridged life story of the famed 16th century astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, one of Poland’s most famous sons. For those who don’t know, Copernicus was the first man to give voice to the notion that the Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way around, which was at the time the pervading opinion. Although we somewhat take this for granted now, at the time his theory was an important and potentially world-altering discovery, which had significant ramifications, not only in the scientific community, but amongst religious scholars too. The film, which featured the voice talent of Piotr Adamczyk as Copernicus and Anna Cieslak as Anna, was released in Poland in October 2009, and would likely had never been heard of again, at least outside its native country – had it not been for Abel Korzeniowski, of course.

Belying its roots in children’s cinema, Copernicus’ Star is a rich and vivid orchestral and choral score, with astounding passages of powerful thematic beauty. One of the most notable things about the score is the richness and variety of the orchestrations; Korzeniowski makes strong use of the entire orchestra, using the full range at his disposal throughout the score, often passing melodies off between different sections within the same cue, and always making use of a percussion section that twinkles and shimmers and provides the entire score with a heavenly sheen that fits the film’s depiction of celestial observation and world-changing discovery. Similarly, Korzeniowski makes wonderful use of the Cappella Corale Varsaviana Choir, ranging from a solo female vocalist leading the melody, to full songs, to an almost Philip Glass-style choral element which uses voices as an ostinato in a pseudo-minimalist way.

The “Prologue” opens the score with a bang, in which a triumphant fanfare ushers in a majestic brass theme accompanied by heavenly choral accents, dancing woodwind trills, harp glissandi and scintillating string runs. It’s a quite stupendous opening, and which sets the tone for the score to come. Much of the score oscillates between traditional 20th century orchestral music, and a close approximation of time-specific renaissance pastiche, often making use of instruments of the period, notably a prominent harpsichord. In cues such as the timeless and classical “Breaking Free”, the folk-like “Faustus”, “Jubilee” and the joyous conclusion “Scholars”, Korzeniowski manages to retain the essence of the period and the integrity of the compositional stylistics while being careful to make the historical references palatable for his audience, which is no mean feat. “Faustus”, especially, has a cello solo in the middle of the cue which is absolutely sensational, while parts of “Jubilee” remind me of some of the most ancient-sounding parts of Basil Poledouris’s score for Flesh + Blood.

Majestic choral restatements of the main theme reappear in several cues thereafter, most notably in “To the Stars”, and the simply magnificent “Prophecy” (which has a hint of James Horner’s A Beautiful Mind about it). “Aquarius” has a lush, magical feel that would not be out of place in a lavish fantasy film; with strong restatements of the main theme accompanied by harp waves, chimes, beautiful woodwind accents, and a darkly powerful choral finale, this is one of the most outstanding tracks on the album. Similarly, “Hunting Dogs” is an action cue that expertly mixes a harpsichord with powerful brass calls before emerging into another potent choral performance of the main theme.

In “Anna and Volder” there is a vivacious romantic theme featuring a fluttering woodwind line that passes between oboes and flutes, accompanied by playfully lilting strings. and there are a number of individual standout orchestral cues that are no less impressive, despite only hinting at the thematic content: “Sour Apples”, for example, has an unexpected hint of tragedy beneath the fast-moving string writing. Some of the music is a little mickey-mousey in places, often coming close to the madcap caper music one usually associates with composers like Carl Stalling or Scott Bradley. The second half of “To the Stars”, for example, has vivacious strings bouncing gaily over the top of a half-hidden flute restatement of the main theme. Later, “A Thief” and “The Forbidden Book” are vaguely comic scherzos with rambunctious beats and surging string writing. The second half of “Anna and Volder” is humorous dance, while “Ghosts” and the unexpectedly menacing “Snakes” have more than a hint of Tchaikovsky to them, especially the use of hooting clarinets as an undercurrent to the mischief in the former, and the harrumping trombone and tuba writing which gives the latter cue its weight.

Scores like Copernicus’ Star really bring home the fact that, out there in film music land, absolutely magnificent scores are being written for films which no-one knows and which for the most part stand no chance of being released. It makes you wonder what we’re missing out on; had Korzeniowski never been hired to score A Single Man, it’s more than likely that this score would never have seen the light of day, and would have been missing out on one of the best scores written anywhere in 2009. Lavish praise should be bestowed upon Messrs. Goldwasser, Gerhard and Verboys for putting all this together. However, more than anything, Copernicus’ Star proves beyond all doubt that Abel Korzeniowski is a composer of the highest order, who has the skill and orchestral knowledge to be wildly successful. I just hope that he picks up more projects, and that his vast talent isn’t wasted by Hollywood producers who don’t know any better.

Rating: ****½

Buy the Copernicus’ Star soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prologue (2:30)
  • To the Stars (1:27)
  • Prophecy (1:41)
  • Lands Far Away (1:02)
  • A Thief (2:11)
  • Breaking Free (1:55)
  • Aquarius (4:30)
  • Anna and Volder (3:51)
  • Ghosts (2:04)
  • Sour Apples (1:55)
  • The Hunting Dogs (2:47)
  • The Bull’s Eye (1:31)
  • Medic(2:28)
  • Snakes (2:16)
  • Forbidden Book (2:15)
  • The Philosopher’s Stone (4:55)
  • Faustus (2:09)
  • Jubilee (2:07)
  • He Who Stopped the Sun (1:35)
  • Scholars (2:02)

Running Time: 47 minutes 51 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1165 (2009/2011)

Music composed by Abel Korzeniowski. Conducted by Maciej Zoltowski. Performed by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Cappella Corale Varsaviana Choir. Orchestrations by Abel Korzeniowski. Featured musical soloists Anna Sikorzak, Agnieszka Kopacka-Aleksandrowicz, Piotr Grinholc and Wojciech Kowalewski. Album produced by Abel Korzeniowski and Dan Goldwasser.

  1. June 23, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Great review, Jon! I agree that this score is uber-awesome! Sure, there is some influence from Horner’s a Beautiful Mind (mainly in “Prophecy”), but it is still insanely good compared to trash like Djawadi’s Clash of the Titans.

    I give it a strong 4 1/2 rating as well!

  2. dave collins
    May 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Hi Jonathan

    dave collins Sheffield here. Great review. How do I find your email address?

  1. May 31, 2011 at 4:51 pm

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