Home > Reviews > WOJCIECH KILAR REVIEWS – 1964-2007


September 24, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

In this latest installment of the new irregular series looking at the career of some film music’s most iconic composers, we travel to Poland to look at the work of one of film music’s most unsung geniuses, Wojciech Kilar.

Wojciech Kilar was born in Lvov, Ukraine, when it was still part of Poland, in July 1932, but moved to Katowice in Silesia in 1948 with his father, a gynecologist, and his mother, an actress. Kilar studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice under composer and pianist Władysława Markiewiczówna, at the State Higher School of Music in Kraków under composer and pianist Bolesław Woytowicz, and then in Paris with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in the late 1950s. Upon his return to Poland, Kilar and fellow composers Henryk Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki led an avant-garde music movement in the 1960s, during which time he wrote several acclaimed classical works.

Kilar scored his first film in 1959, and went on to write music from some of Poland’s most acclaimed directors, including Krzysztof Kieślowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, Kazimierz Kutz, and Andrzej Wajda. He worked on over 100 titles in his home country, but he did not score an major English-language film until Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992.

In addition to his film work, Kilar’s classical output includes such masterworks as Krzesany (1974), a symphonic poem for orchestra, inspired by the “highlander” music of the Tatra mountains region of southern Poland; Exodus (1979), a religious choral piece used in the trailers for Schindler’s List, and others such as Prelude and Christmas Carol (1972), Mount Kościelec 1909 (1976), Angelus (1984), Orawa (1986), and Choralvorspiel (1988). His third, fourth and fifth symphonies – the September Symphony (2003), the Symphony of Motion (2005) and the Advent Symphony (2007) – were among his last major completed works. Kilar died on December 29, 2013, at his home in Katowice, after a battle with cancer, aged 81.


There are three albums which are absolutely essential for anyone who wants to become familiar with Wojciech Kilar’s work: the compilation CDs Muzyka Filmowa 1, Muzyka Filmowa 2, and Warsaw to Hollywood.

MUZYKA FILMOWA 1 was released in the mid 1980s on an obscure Polish label, and contains music from 10 films and TV shows Kilar wrote between 1963 and 1978: Ziemia Obiecana, Hipoteza, Bilans Kwartalny, Rodzina Połanieckich, Milczenie, Sól Ziemi Czarnej, Perła w Koronie, Salto, Zazdrość I Medycyna, and Trędowata. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Kilar’s early years, and is especially notable in how it introduces many of the compositional trademarks and stylistics people fell in love with post-Dracula. My understanding is that this recording was originally released as a vinyl LP by the Olympia record label with the serial number OCD-602, and that it was briefly released on CD on the same label, but that it’s now quite rare and rather expensive. The image on the CD cover is of Zbigniew Cybulski, the star of Salto.

MUZYKA FILMOWA 2 was released on CD in 1994 by Sound-Pol/Baierle Records with the label number SPBCD-044, and contains music from seven further films and TV shows Kilar wrote between 1969 and 1994: Przygody Pana Michała, Smuga Cienia, Kronika Wypadków Miłosnych, Zabójstwo w Catamount, Kontrakt, Wkrótce Nadejdą Bracia, and Śmierć Jak Kromka Chleba. These titles are some of the most important and popular Polish films of the 1980s, comprising his most significant works with directors Krzysztof Zanussi, Kazimierz Kutz and Andrzej Wajda. The CD is still available from specialist retailers, but is rare and obscure, and likely to be quite expensive. The image on the CD cover is of Tadeusz Łomnicki and his female co-star Magdalena Zawadzka, from Przygody Pana Michała.

WARSAW TO HOLLYWOOD is the most common and mainstream of all Kilar CDs, having been released by Milan Classics in 1997. It features music from several of the TV series and films included in the two Muzyka Filmowa albums, as well as cuts from his English-language North American works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Death and the Maiden. However, the selling point for many will be its inclusion of music from Polish films not found anywhere else on the other compilations, specifically the films Rok Spokojnego Słońca from 1984, Przypadek from 1987, Życie Za Życie from 1991, and Cwał from 1996. Again, the CD is still available from specialist retailers, and is likely to be the easiest ‘gateway compilation’ into Kilar’s musical world.


Below, I go into detail about each of the titles included in these three compilations, plus numerous additional standalone scores which are available to purchase independently. This article contains a review of every Kilar score for which commercially available, purchasable music exists, including the six English-language scores Kilar wrote in the 1990s: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Death and the Maiden (1994), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), The Ninth Gate (1999), The Pianist (2002), and We Own the Night (2007).

Reviews already exist for two of these scores: for my review of The Ninth Gate please click here: https://moviemusicuk.us/2000/03/10/the-ninth-gate-wojciech-kilar/ and for Clark Douglas’s review of We Own The Night please click here: https://moviemusicuk.us/2007/10/12/we-own-the-night-wojciech-kilar/. For everything else, read on!

Collectors should note that the soundtrack for the 1988 film Salsa, which Kilar scored, did not contain any of his score.



Milczenie [Silence] is a Polish film directed by Kazimierz Kutz, and is a parable about guilt and social alienation. A young boy is accused of attempting to murder a local priest, but a lack of evidence eventually results in him being released. However, the community continues to shun him and, when he gets seriously hurt in an accident, the local townspeople refuse to help him in his recovery. The film was an acclaimed success in its native country, and played at the 1963 Venice Film Festival.

Two cues from Milczenie are included on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 3:16. The first is a rhythmic, almost comedic-sounding dance for guitars and percussion, with a whimsical base beat led by marimbas and xylophones. The music becomes more shrill and intense as it develops, especially when a bank of skittish-sounding flutes comes in; this sound continues into the second track, where the flutes play a series of bitter-sounding four-note motifs accompanied by quasi-religious chords on a harpsichord. It’s a stark, but appropriate tone to strike for this type of social realism; not anywhere close to being one of Kilar’s best, but it’s fascinating to look at where he started.


SALTO (1965)

Salto [Somersault] is a peculiar Polish comedy-drama directed by Tadeusz Konwicki, starring Zbigniew Cybulski (“the Polish James Dean”) as a man who gets off a train in a small country town and proceeds to have number of peculiar Kafka-esque encounters with the townspeople. As he explores, and meets more and more people, the man tells conflicting stories and tall tales, including one where he claims to have ‘hidden in this town during the war,’ but no-one seems to remember him, leading the man to question his reality and his sanity.

Two cues from Salto are included on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 7:25. The first is an extended jazz piece, whimsical, but with a tragic-comic twist, performed by a languid clarinet underpinned by plucked bass. Some of the chord progressions have a hint of Jewish folk music to them, but without the iconic dance-like melodic material. The second is, unusually, an extended piece for two double basses, which begin by playing brusque rhythmic ideas off each other, before eventually being joined by metallic percussion, drums, pizzicato violins, and muted trumpets. This piece is more jazzy than the first, and very unconventional, playing almost at odds to the point of the story by portraying the Man with almost swaggering confidence, when the reality of situation is anything but.



Przygody Pana Michała [The Adventures of Mr. Michael] was a popular Polish TV series which aired in 1969. Directed by Paweł Komorowski, and adapted from the series of historical stories by Henryk Sienkiewicz, it starred Tadeusz Łomnicki in the title role as Michał Volodyjowski, a 16th century knight who abandons his monastic religious order and becomes a hero of the Polish people, honorably saving the country from various invaders, scourges, criminals, and underminers. The character of Michał Volodyjowski is a famous and popular one in Polish culture due to his appearance in the Korczak trilogy of stories, and has been portrayed numerous times on the big and small screen.

Just one cue from Przygody Pana Michała is included on Muzyka Filmowa 2, running for a total of 5:29, but it’s a cracker: the piece opens with a bold, powerful male baritone voice singing in Polish, accompanied by all manner of heroic orchestral flourishes, rousing trumpets, rolling timpanis, a harpsichord, and a wordless choir. As the cue progresses it moves through several different styles: at 0:45 it turns into a pastoral piece for glockenspiel, harp, flutes, and romantic strings, delicate and lovely; at 2:31 it presents a comedic passage for bassoon and plucked bass, which becomes sprightly and lively as the full orchestra joins in; the finale, which begins at 4:40, is a wonderfully rambunctious action variation on the main title theme, sans vocals, but with a galloping percussion undercurrent, accentuated by flamboyant piano chords and a rousing choir that is quite thrilling.



Sól Ziemi Czarnej [The Taste of the Black Earth] is a historical drama film directed by Kazimierz Kutz, about the events of the Second Silesian Uprising in 1919. The film stars Olgierd Lukaszewicz as Gabriel Basista, the youngest of the seven Basista brothers, all of whom are conscripted by their father to fight in the struggle against the occupying German forces. As the story progresses, Gabriel witnesses the horrors of war first hand, while simultaneously developing a deep love for his homeland and his culture. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 43rd Academy Awards in 1970, but was not nominated.

One extended suite from Sól Ziemi Czarnej is included on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 8:15. As one would expect given the subject matter, Kilar’s music is quite serious and profound, featuring layers of slow, shifting strings playing off against each other with a tone of sorrow and remembrance; it’s quite beautiful, almost hypnotic. At 2:26 the music changes, offering a more militaristic and percussive edge, with layers of different drums playing complicated rhythmic ideas off one another. Gradually the drums are joined by strings, dancing woodwinds, whooping horns, and a notable solo trumpet refrain, that almost seems to work as a parody of traditional patriotic marches.

At 6:03, the music becomes deadly serious, with dark piano clusters and brooding, dramatic string figures clearly underpinning the significance of the conflict, and the life-or-death stakes the Silesians faced in defending and liberating their homeland. The brass outbursts are especially noteworthy. The suite concludes with a typically Kilar-esque passage of somber introspection for strings, woodwinds, and the ubiquitous harpsichord. Clearly, the Poles would suffer at the hands of the Germans again in the years to come, and Kilar knows this.



Perła w Koronie [The Pearl in the Crown] is the 1972 sequel to Sól Ziemi Czarnej, again directed by Kazimierz Kutz, continuing to look the events of the Second Silesian Uprising in 1919, albeit from the point of view of a different group of characters. Specifically, this film examines the lives of a group of mineworkers whose lives and livelihoods are threatened when the German owners of the mine decide that it is unprofitable and want to close it by flooding it. The film was screened at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, and like its predecessor was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 45th Academy Awards in 1972, but was not nominated.

Just one cue from Perła w Koronie is included on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 2:09. The cue is a serious, somber continuation of some of the ideas from the first score; it’s core is a bank of velvety strings performing a tragic lament for the people of Silesia, which is given an even heavier tone by the inclusion of dark piano chords. It’s quite beautiful, in a gaunt, heartbreaking sort of way, and leaves one in no doubt that this is a film that asks some difficult questions, and provides no easy answers.



Zazdrość i Medycyna [Jealousy and Medicine] is a Polish psychological drama with romantic undertones, written and directed Janusz Majewski, based on Michał Choromański’s novel of the same title, starring Ewa Krzyżewska and Mariusz Dmochowski. It’s a fairly straightforward tale of emotional betrayal, in which a husband suspects his wife of having an affair with their family doctor (Andrzej Łapicki); after hiring a man to follow his wife and confirm his suspicions, the husband confronts her, leading to bitter recriminations of unfaithfulness and jealousy.

Two cues from Zazdrość i Medycyna appear on Muzyka Filmowa 1, with a combined running time of 5:43. The first is a lush, emotional piece for strings and piano, gently romantic, but with the underpinning sense of slight apprehension and insidiousness that Kilar often employed. The introduction of stark horn calls half way through the piece reinforce the idea that, despite the surface sheen of idyllic bliss, things are not quite right.

The second piece is a beautiful solo piano performance, which eventually emerges a spectacular orchestral passage written as a flamboyant tango, treating the war of words between husband and wife as a dark, dramatic dance of passion. Stirring swirling violins, staccato cello pulses, and snare drum trills combine wit brooding clarinets, harpsichord, and soaring trumpet calls – it’s quite breathtaking. Collectors should also note that the “Tango” cue also appears on the Warsaw to Hollywood album.



Hipoteza [Hypothesis] is a 30-minute short film directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, starring Jerzy Zelnik as a young professor of natural sciences in the early 20th century, who is working towards a scientific discovery that would make it possible to build a space rocket. However, the professor is plagued by doubt and weakness, and is on the verge of abandoning his dream, until a chance encounter with a suicidal woman on a bridge over a river changes everything.

Just one cue from Hipoteza is included on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 2:20. The first half of the cue is a light, unexpectedly sprightly dance for strings, in which playful repeated rhythmic ideas skip around between violins, viola, and cellos, augmented by celesta, piano and harp. The second half, rather unexpectedly, is a bulbous, almost comical march for blustery horns and swirling strings, underpinned by martial percussion rhythms. It stands completely at odds with the gentle ideas of the first minute or so, and makes no apparent dramatic sense, but it showcases Kilar at his most amusing and mischievous.



Bilans Kwartalny [A Woman’s Decision] is a social drama directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, starring Maja Komorowska and Piotr Fronczewski. Komorowska plays Marta, a quiet, unassuming bookkeeper with a dull but reliable husband and a school age son. Marta slowly comes to realize that, with her marriage in a rut and with her son about to become independent, she has no real purpose in life; however, a chance encounter with a wealthy former schoolmate, combined with her discovery of illegal embezzlement occurring at her office, gives Marta the impetus to change her life. Not only that, Marta meets a handsome new man named Jacek, with whom she discovers real love for the first time, leading her to contemplate the possibility of a new start.

A suite from Bilans Kwartalny appears on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 8:02. It begins with an elegant piece for piano, strings, and recorder, with a Bach-like plucked bass element that recalls the famous Air on a G-String. As the cue progresses it becomes darker and more tragic, especially when the ubiquitous harpsichord chords appear, while further statements of the central theme speak to Marta’s loneliness, her troubled relationships, and her desire for a better life. The cue changes at the 3:46 mark, presenting instead a hopeful, slightly excited-sounding trumpet solo accompanied by passionate harp glissandi, jazz-inflected rhapsodic piano lines, and swirling, tempestuous strings.

The final sequence of the suite, beginning at 5:53, is a piece of unexpectedly sultry jazz, with an electric guitar, quietly agitated strings, and brushed cymbals, all bringing a touch of emergent sexuality to Marta’s life. The sultry sexy writing is romantic in all the wrong ways, and actually reminds me of something Ennio Morricone might have written for a film like this, creating an atmosphere of passion and eroticism where one should not really exist. Collectors should also note that an extended version of the first part of the suite also appears on the Warsaw to Hollywood album, with the title “Retour à la Maison”.



Ziemia Obiecana [The Promised Land] is a Polish drama film directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on a novel by Władysław Reymont. Set in the industrial city of Łódź in the 19th-century, the film stars Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak, and Andrzej Seweryn and tells the story of three friends – a Pole, a German, and a Jew – who must overcome a series of struggles in order to build and maintain a textile factory, the most significant of which concerns an affair one of them has with one his friend’s wives. It’s an unflinching examination of turn-of the-century capitalism and social issues, was a major success in Poland, and was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 1975 Academy Awards.

Two cues from Ziemia Obiecana appear on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 10:25. The first cue is a bold, forthright, strongly classical piece that captures the energy and life of 19th century Polish society; it features a direct, determined cello ostinato overlaid with a rich variety of instrumental textures, ranging from sprightly waltzing strings, to fluttering woodwinds, and an occasionally militaristic horn call that has a vaguely comic bent.

The second cue is a more refined, elegant, romantic, waltz-time dance for swooning, cascading strings and pretty, intimate woodwinds that is quite gorgeous, especially when the harp waves enter the fray. Collectors should also note that an extended version the second track also appears on the Warsaw to Hollywood album, with the title “Valse Romantique”.



Zabójstwo w Catamount [The Catamount Killing] is a Polish-German thriller directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, based on the novel by James H. Chase. It stars Horst Buchholtz as Mark, a banker troubled by both business and personal problems, who is transferred to a branch in a small provincial town. Desperate to find a way out of his situation, he meets and seduces an older woman, and persuades her to help him rob his own bank. Unlike most Polish films of the era, Zabójstwo w Catamount was set in America, and as such has an inherent curiosity value, if for no other reason to see how 1970s Poles envisaged life in small-town Pennsylvania.

One cue from Zabójstwo w Catamount appears on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 5:49, and it’s an absolute blast: it opens with an enormous, flamboyant, massively melodramatic flourish for strings, piano, and harpsichord, overlaid with a majestic solo trumpet that has all the drama and intensity one would want from a heist film. The strings take over the melodic line after a minute or so, increasing further the sense of dramatic extravagance. A quieter version of the main theme, re-orchestrated for oboe and soft strings, emerges at 1:38, and the subsequent re-statement on solo violin is tragically lovely, especially when accompanied by the typically Kilar-esque twanging harpsichord.

The style changes at 3:14 to something much more stark and nervous, a set of clattering drums, staccato harpsichord chords, and a low cello drone, clearly underpinning the tension of the heist itself. The drums become bolder and more intense as the piece develops, before concluding with another emotional and tragic statement of the main theme for strings and harpsichord, lamenting for the fate of Mark and his ill-advised crimes.



Trędowata [The Leper] is a Polish romantic drama, directed by Jerzy Hoffmann, based on the novel by Helena Mniszkówna. The film stars Elzbieta Starostecka as a simple governess in Poland in the 1920s, who falls madly in love with a wealthy aristocrat (Leszek Teleszynski). However, the aristocrat’s family is prejudiced towards her due to her lower class and social status, and conspires to keep the two lovers apart while they arrange a more ‘suitable’ match for him. The film was popular in Poland, and was seen by many as a critique of outdated social systems, while Wojciech Kilar’s score is one his most beloved domestic works.

Two cues from Trędowata appear on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for a total of 12:02. The score is generally romantic, speaking directly to the forbidden love affair at the center of the story, but it is underpinned by a hint of tragedy and hesitation, addressing the forces conspiring to keep them apart. There is a quite beautiful solo piano theme, tender and intimate, which grows to wonderfully sweeping proportions as the strings come in. At 3:40 the piece changes to become more dream-like and quixotic, with rolling, summery, shimmering orchestral effects underneath a passionate new theme which passes from strings to horns.

The second cue is a wonderfully stylish formal dance in waltz-time for classical strings, subtle horns, ostentatious clarinets, and snare drums, which conjures up images of courtly gentlemen and well-heeled ladies swirling across the ballrooms of Poland. Kilar’s sensibilities at writing this sort of traditional classicism is not as celebrated as it should be, as the end results rival anything that Strauss wrote in his heyday. Two shorter cues edited down from these original suites, titled “Les Fontaines” and “Grande Valse”, running for a total of 8:29, also appear on Warsaw to Hollywood.



Smuga Cienia [The Shadow Line] is a Polish-British historical drama film directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel by Joseph Conrad.  The film stars Marek Kondrat as a young seaman on board a merchant ship en route to Singapore in 1888 who, after a disaster at sea involving an outbreak of malaria, finds himself captaining the damaged boat. As he desperately tries to get the ship to a safe port, the young lad is forced to deal with numerous issues to help his failing crew, not least of which are the boat’s many passengers, some of whom are in poor health conditions.

KIlar’s main title theme from Smuga Cienia is sensational; it begins with a nostalgic, attractive piano solo, but gradually grows in scope and orchestration as it repeats, picking up a string section after around a minute, and eventually hitting majestic heights of sweeping melodrama, as the strings soar and the piano circles around them rhapsodically. This has always been one of my all-time favorite Kilar themes, and shows just what a wonderfully bold and passionate composer he could be. The theme appears identically on both Muzyka Filmowa 2 and Warsaw to Hollywood, and runs for 3:11.



Rodzina Połanieckich [Połaniecki Family] was a popular drama mini-series on Polish television that ran for seven episodes in 1978 and 1979. Based on the novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz and set at the end of the 19th century, the series was directed by Jan Rybkowski and starred Andrzej May as Stanislaw Połaniecki, the patriarch of the Połaniecki family. The story follows his life as he meets and falls in love with an impoverished woman from a once-noble family, struggles to build a business empire, and has an affair with a beautiful younger woman, all the while trying to maintain the morals and standards expected of a Polish gentleman of that era.

The main theme from Rodzina Polanieckich appears on Muzyka Filmowa 1, running for 5:47. It’s a classical, traditional, but slightly dour piece which opens with an attractive piano solo, before going on to pick up a lush string accompaniment. Połaniecki’s troubles, both personal and business, are give a pseudo-tragic feeling by the way Kilar uses chimes and plucked strings; they sort of have a feeling of childhood nostalgia, bitterly altered to reflect the difficult realities of adulthood.



Paciorki Jednego Rózanca [The Beads of One Rosary] is a comedy-drama directed by Kazmierz Kutz. It’s a socio-political film looking at the stubbornness of an old miner named Habryka (played by Augustyn Halotta) who has lived in the same cottage for years with his wife and children. When land developers approach Habryka with an offer to move him to an apartment so they can raze his house and build new ones for current miners, the old man – who is set in his ways and attached to the house and its place in the community – refuses to budge, leading to a series of face-offs with the authorities.

One cue from Paciorki Jednego Rózanca was included on the Marco Polo compilation album ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Other Film Music by Wojciech Kilar’ released in 2003, running for 4:06. The music is a fairly simple, but appropriate; it begins with a minimalistic, softly repetitive piano motif, and slowly grows to encompass a solo trumpet doubled by flute, string ostinatos, and a steady snare drum riff, which speaks to both Habryka’s cantankerousness, as to well as to his resilience on the face of injustice.



Kontrakt [The Contract] is a social comedy-drama directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, in which the wealthy family of a Warsaw doctor has all its histories, arguments, long-buried grievances, and fractured relationships brought to the fore and aired in public after the doctor’s daughter, Lilka, runs out on her husband-to-be during her wedding ceremony. The film stars Tadeusz Łomnicki, Krzysztof Kolberger, Magda Jaroszówna, and Maja Komorowska, and features a cameo from the great Leslie Caron as Penelope, an eccentric ballerina who flies in from Paris for the event.

Kilar’s score for Kontrakt is brilliant, but incongruous when you understand the context of the film for which it was written. It opens with “Alla Polacca,” a furious, thunderous, 90-second explosion of frenzied strings and relentless snare drum tattoos which sound like they should be underscoring a desperate chase sequence rather than a comedy-of-errors. Kilar further enlivens the piece with a trumpet flourishes, and builds up to a rousing finale, making it one of my all-time favorite Kilar cues.

The subsequent “Kontrakt” is darker, a sort of marche funebre for stark snares, mournful string passages, and sighing, weeping violin figures which fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula will recognize immediately. The two cues mentioned are featured on the Muzyka Filmowa 2 album, with a combined running time of 5:21. “Alla Polacca” also features on Warsaw to Hollywood.



Le Roi et l’Oiseau [The King and the Mockingbird] is a beautiful French animated fantasy film directed by Paul Grimault. Based on the story The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep by French poet Jacques Prévert, it tells the story of a chimney sweep and a shepherdess, who live inside two different paintings owned by a tyrannical king. The two painted figures have fallen in love and seek to escape the canvas and live in the real world, and so enlist the help of a magical mockingbird to free them. However, the king also has fallen in love with the shepherdess, and wants her for himself. This fantastical, magical story is considered a masterpiece of French animation, and took more than thirty years to complete – Grimault began making the film in 1948, but it was not released until 1980.

The music in Le Roi et l’Oiseau is simply beautiful, one of most romantic and emotional works of of Kilar’s career. Everything springs out of the theme heard in the opening cue, “Générique,” a tender piece for soft pianos and lilting strings which begins like a lullaby, but becomes more virtuoso as it develops. Further cues build on the theme, and include a short bittersweet version for glockenspiel in “Les Appartements Secrets,” an extended fantasy for solo violin in “La Bergère et le Ramoneur,” and a galloping brass action version in “L’Escalier Aux Cent-Mille Marches” that is quite superb.

Elsewhere the score is light and sprightly, almost playful, with jaunty melodies that pass from oboe to trumpets backed by tinkling pianos in “Prélude au Mariage,” a pretty little dance for piano and chimes in “Le Petit Clown,” and a skittery impromptu variation in “Le Portrait du Roi”. There’s also some wonderfully pompous imperialist pastiche to accompany the blustering nature of the king in “La Chasse à l’Oiseau” (a parody of a foxhunt), as well as a couple of outstanding fully-orchestral classical pastiches in “La Polka Des Lions” and “La Révolte des Fauves,” and even an excellent action cue for shrill woodwinds and snare-drums in “Les Grands Ateliers Du Roi” that pre-dates some of the action material from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Kilar was clearly greatly inspired by Grimault’s groundbreaking animation, as well as the emotion of the story, as it inspired in him one of his most accessible and thematic works. The score was originally released on CD in France in 1997 on the Playtime label, with a couple of cues from the related film La Table Tournante as a bonus; it was re-released by the same label in 2003, re-mastered, as a limited edition of 2,000 copies.                                                       

Track Listing: 1. Générique (2:35), 2. Prélude au Mariage (1:39), 3. Les Appartements Secrets (:28), 4. La Chasse a l’Oiseau (1:10), 5. Chanson du Mois de Mai No 12: Boîte à Musique (1:13), 6. Chanson du Mois de Mai No 38: La Leçon des Oiseaux (0:29), 7. Berceuse Paternelle (1:40), 8. La Polka des Lions (1:36), 9. Le Petit Clown (:52), 10. Les Deux Rois (:31), 11. Les Grands Ateliers du Roi (3:16), 12. La Bergère et le Ramoneur (5:50), 13. Le Portrait du Roi (3:09), 14. L’Escalier Aux Cent-Mille Marches (1:41), 15. La Marche Nuptiale (1:03), 16. Carillon (1:05), 17. La Complainte de l’Aveugle (3:25), 18. La Révolte des Fauves (3:08), 19. La Fin du Grand Automate (1:37), 20. Epilogue (1:49), 21. Générique Fin (2:36). Playtime PL-970936, 41 minutes 36 seconds.



From a Far Country is an acclaimed Polish biopic directed by Krzysztof Zanussi which tells the life story of Karol Wojtyla (played by Cezary Morawski), who rises through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church to become the first Polish Pope, Pope John Paul II. The title of the film relates to the famous speech given at the Vatican when the pope was announced, in which Wojtyla was said to come ‘from a far country’.

Kilar’s score is beautiful, fully orchestral, and very reverent, clearly depicting the esteem in which Poles held – and continue to hold – Wojtyla today. Slow, respectful string writing with Bach-like bass counterpoint typifies the eponymous opening cue, before the centerpiece of the score comes in the wonderful “Kalwaria,” which is more dramatic and imposing, but at 10 minutes long is able to develop some superb textures, ranging from noble brass to tender oboe and clarinet passages, and soaring, spiritual-sounding strings.

The tender theme from the opening cue features prominently in the rest of the score, appearing as a “Piano Solo,” an “Oboe Solo,” and in a fuller version on “Theme for Oboe and Orchestra” which is quite sublime. Elsewhere, “Ghetto” is quite intense, with a more promiment and rapacious percussion running underneath urgent horns and strings.

From a Far Country was released on LP by RCA Records but, as far as I can tell, has never been released on CD. A vinyl-to-digital transfer recording of the score does exist on the secondary market, but it is likely to be very rare and rather expensive; this is a real shame, because this is one of his most accessibly beautiful and approachable works.

Track Listing: 1. From a Far Country (2:30), 2. Kalwaria (10:21), 3. Piano Solo (1:26), 4. Theme (3:58), 5. Nowa Huta (1:30), 6. Oboe Solo (1:35), 7. Ghetto (1:36), 8. Theme for Oboe and Orchestra (3:50), 9. Meditation (4:03), 10. End Titles (6:07). RCA Records BL-31612, 37 minutes 58 seconds.



Rok Spokojnego Słońca [The Year of the Quiet Sun] is a Polish drama film written and directed by Krzysztof Zanussi. It tells the story of a romance between a Polish refugee, played by Maja Komorowska, and an American soldier, played by Scott Wilson, who meet and fall in love in World War II when he is tasked with finding the bodies of shot-down English and American pilots on the battlefields of Poland. The film was a major critical success across Europe in 1984, and went on to be nominated as Best Foreign Language Film the 1986 Golden Globe Awards, as well as winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

One cue from Rok Spokojnego Słońca, titled “Émilie & Norman,” appears on the Warsaw to Hollywood compilation album, running for 2:24. It’s a lovely piece of sweeping melodrama, with an especially gorgeous woodwind melody carried over a bed of restless rhythmic pianos, warmly lilting strings, and the familiar Kilar harpsichord. There is a touch of melancholy and a hint of danger to the piece, as if acknowledging that the two lovers are meeting in less than ideal circumstances, but love conquers all even in times of war, and Kilar allows the passionate romance between the pair to shine through.



Kronika Wypadków Miłosnych [Chronicles of Amorous Accidents] is a Polish romantic drama directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the novel by Tadeusz Konwicki. Set in the Polish part of Lithuania immediately prior to the onset of World War II, it stars Paulina Młynarska as Alina and Piotr Wawrzyńczak as Witek, two young people who fall in love and endure all the passion, humor, and heartbreak that entails, even as the specter of war looms ever closer.

Four cues from Kronika Wypadków Miłosnych are featured on Muzyka Filmowa 2, running for a total of 16:26, and they represent some of the most beautiful romantic scoring of Kilar’s career. The first cue is tender and gentle, redolent of young love, spring flowers, and sunny days, with a bed of shifting strings casting a warm, enveloping spell. The second, the Grand March of the Cavalry, is a full-throated and pompous military march for snare drums, pennywhistles, and an oompah brass band, which is as brilliant as it is unexpected in this context.

The third is a longing, more passionate love theme for Witek and Alina, with more fulsome strings accentuated by rolling harp glissandi, piano, and harpsichord, that is just luscious. The final cue is a quiet, almost introspective variation on the main theme rendered solely on a glockenspiel, offering a somewhat downbeat and contemplative conclusion to the music. Collectors should also note that both “La Grande Marche de la Cavalerie” and “Witek et Alina” also appear on the Warsaw to Hollywood compilation, running for a total of 9:18.



Wkrótce Nadejdą Bracia [The Brothers Will Come Soon] is a Polish drama directed by Kazmierz Kutz. The film stars Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak as Ada, a woman who lives alone in a deserted villa in the countryside, circa 1945. One night a man (Jerzy Kamas) comes to her door, claiming to be an art collector and wanting to stay the night. She tells him he should leave, and that her three brothers in the military will be home soon, but he is insistent, and soon she realizes the man has a more ominous agenda for her.

Four cues from Wkrótce Nadejdą Bracia are included on the Muzyka Filmowa 2 album, running for a total of 11:47. It’s one of Kilar’s more subdued scores, but it still has that inherent sense of dark romanticism that permeates all his work. A high, searching string theme emerges at the beginning of the first cue, accompanied by a bed of rolling pianos, horn chords, and a soft, but insistent percussion beat. The lead instrumental performance switches to a sonorous oboe half way through, giving the piece a varied sonic palette that is very appealing. This continues on into the quieter, more intimate second  track, a simple piece for solo oboe and strings that is simply beautiful.

Things become a little more tense and ominous in the third cue, in which Kilar uses ground basses, nerve-rattling percussive ideas, and staccato woodwind hoots to accentuate the threat posed to Ada by the man at her door. Stark, harsh crashes on a prepared piano, and eerie string lines hammer the point home. The finale features a gently mournful, breathlessly restrained flute over soft strings and plucked harp textures, which becomes more baleful and somber as it reaches it’s downbeat conclusion.



Przypadek [Blind Chance] is a fascinating Polish drama directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, and is one of those films which examines the different potential end results of three different choices a person can make in apparently mundane circumstances. The film stars Boguslaw Linda as Witek, a young medical student who is no longer sure whether he wants to become a doctor, whose future is determined by whether or not he catches a particular train. Through three possible scenarios revolving around three specific choices, Witek experiences his possible futures depending upon whether he decides to continue with his schooling, join up with the Communist Party, or become an anti-Communist rebel.

Two cues from Przypadek are included on the Warsaw to Hollywood album, running for a total of 3:29, and they are both excellent. The first, “Thème Pour Hautbois,’ presents a stirring, intensely dramatic theme rendered on an ancient oboe, accompanied by strings, harpsichord, and rolling percussion; it has a sense of importance and destiny to it, as well as an elegance that speaks to the main character’s uncertain future. The second piece, “Thème Pour Cordes,” transfers the theme from oboe to intensely insistent strings accompanied by a bold, dominant piano, and is quite excellent.



La Table Tournante is a sweet, charming French film directed by Paul Grimault and Jacques Demy. It’s basically a spin-off companion piece to Grimault’s film Le Roi et l’Oiseau, and has a narrative which somehow manages also to be a Grimault career retrospective tribute. While working at his editing table one night, Grimault is visited by a little clown, the star of his movie Le Roi et l’Oiseau, and two strike up a friendly conversation. Grimault, who is delighted to have this new friend, shows him clips of his other films, and as the film progresses other animated characters created by Grimault join the adventure.

Kilar’s score is a light, whimsical delight, and rooted in the same playful idiom as Le Roi et l’Oiseau was originally. Three selections from the score for La Table Tournante are included as bonus cues on the album of Le Roi et l’Oiseau. The first, “Générique,” is a lovely piece for solo piano, magical chimes, soft strings, and tender oboes, which captures the elegance and beauty of Grimault’s work. The second, “La Table Tournante,” is a chipper and sprightly piano rag that intentionally channels the sound of silent cinema, equating Grimault’s clown with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The conclusive “Le Fou du Roi,” is a sad-sack, gently comedic piece for chimes and hooting woodwinds that is delightful in a very French way, and finishes with a throwback reference to the lively, carefree music from Le Roi et l’Oiseau – and an unexpected reference to Jaws!

Track Listing: 1. Générique (2:06), 2. La Table Tournante (1:35), 3. Le Fou du Roi (2:11). Playtime PL-970936, 5 minutes 57 seconds.


KORCZAK (1990)

Korczak is a Polish drama film directed by the great Andrzej Wajda. It tells the true story of the revered pediatrician and humanitarian Janusz Korczak (played by Wojtek Pszoniak), who opened a makeshift orphanage in an abandoned school in Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto during World War II, and provided shelter to over 200 children whose parents were either killed or sent to concentration camps. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 63rd Academy Awards in 1990, but was not accepted as a nominee.

Kilar’s score for the film is as beautiful and moving as one would expect, considering the subject matter; it’s filled with the composer’s trademark solemn string and piano writing, lamenting for both the fate of the children of Warsaw, but also celebrating Korczak’s personal sacrifice and bravery. This is combined with some interesting elegant woodwind writing which has a hint of Jewish folk music to it. The two “Vocalize” cues present especially emotional performances of the score’s main theme, with soprano vocalist Henryka Januszewska acting in much the same way as Edda dell’Orso did on so many Ennio Morricone scores.

Six cues from Korczak, running for just over 12 minutes, were included on a 1991 Milan release entitled ‘Music by Kilar for the Films of Andrzej Wajda,’ which also includes music from Kronika Wypadków Milosnych, Ziemia Obiecana, and Smuga Cienia.

Track Listing: 1. Vocalize 1 (2:10), 2. Vocalize 2 (1:55), 3. Umslagplatz (5:20), 4. Berceuse (1:10), 5. Auréole (0:23), 6. L’Ascension (1:37). Milan CDH-307, 12 minutes 35 seconds.



Napoléon et l’Europe was an epic 6-part French TV mini series which charted the life of Empereor Napoléon Bonaparte, specifically the period of his life following his return from Egypt as a wartime hero in 1799, encompassing his rise to power via a coup, his creation of the French Empire with himself as Emperor, his numerous wars, and his torrid relationship with Joséphine de Beauharnais, culminating in his defeat at Waterloo and his subsequent exile to the island of Elba in 1814. The series starred Jean-François Stévenin as Napoléon and Béatrice Agenin as Joséphine.

The main theme, as one would expect, is a militaristic march-like theme for heraldic horns and sweeping strings, underpinned by martial snares; it’s quite superb, very typical of Kilar’s militaristic style, and appears in its full version in the two ‘galopade’ statements at the beginning and end of the score.

The rest of the score is split into five movements – “Dix-Huit Brumaire,” “Moscou,” “Varsovie,” “Lisbonne,” and “Capitulation” – which follow different aspects of Napoléon’s life. As the press material for the CD states, the score is filled with all the composer’s trademarks: a lushly brooding Eastern European sensibility, romantic orchestral melodies, heroic marches, chamber music, a great amount of gravity and tension, forceful percussive rhythms, and ascending melodic lines so typical of this composer.

Several cues stand out: the starkness of “Dix-Huit Brumaire 2” is quite striking, as are the overlapping brass chords at the beginning of “Moscou 3”. Three of the four “Varsovie” pieces are dainty classical pastiches that range from folk dances to solo harpsichord pieces that Bach would have been proud of, while several of the “Lisbonne” tracks feature gorgeous love themes that echo some of the writing from Portrait of a Lady, velvety and enveloping. There are also several variations on the main theme, prominent in “Dix-Huit Brumaire 3,” the stirring “Moscou 1,” and the tempestupus “Lisbonne 3”.

The score for Napoléon et l”Europe was not released at the time the series was aired, and was unavailable until 2013, when the French boutique label Music Box Records released it as a limited edition of just 500 copies. It sold out almost immediately, but (expensive) copies can be found on the secondary market.

Track Listing: 1. Napoléon et l’Europe (Galopade #1) (1:45), 2. Dix-Huit Brumaire #1 (1:13), 3. Dix-Huit Brumaire #2 (3:17), 4. Dix-Huit Brumaire #3 (1:43), 5. Moscou #1 (2:22), 6. Moscou #2 (2:13), 7. Moscou #3 (2:40), 8. Moscou #4 (2:03), 9. Varsovie #1 (0:55), 10. Varsovie #2 (1:44), 11. Varsovie #3 (Plaisir d’Amour) (1:57), 12. Varsovie #4 (2:27), 13. Lisbonne #1 (1:05), 14. Lisbonne #2 (1:59), 15. Lisbonne #3 (1:32), 16. Lisbonne #4 (2:00), 17. Capitulation #1 (1:48), 18. Capitulation #2 (2:39), 19. Capitulation #3 (1:55), 20. Napoléon et l’Europe (Galopade #2) (1:19). Music Box Records MBR-023, 39 minutes 23 seconds.



Życie za Życie [Life for Life] is an acclaimed biopic of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan Friar who was sent to Auschwitz for hiding Jews during the Second World War, and became the camp’s de-facto priest, preaching to and comforting those who suffered through unimaginable hardships. When the Nazi guards selected ten people to be starved to death as a punishment for some infraction, Kolbe volunteered to die in place of a stranger; he subsequently died in 1941, and was later canonised as a martyr. This serious, profound, moving film was directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, starred Edward Zentara as Kolbe, and featured one of Wojciech Kilar’s most spiritually moving scores.

Two pieces from Życie za Życie are included on the album Warsaw to Hollywood, for a total of 5:10. “La Cellule d’Auschwitz” overflows with religioso tragedy, a mass of elegant cellos which convey the weight of the drama and the seriousness of the situation, but also convey Kolbe’s inherent goodness. The subsequent “Saint Maximilien” is equally moving, with effortlessly graceful violins and pianos chords leading the ensemble in a noble, appropriate, poignant tribute to one of Poland’s most iconic contemporary religious figures. Film music fans may also recognize this piece from the finale of the 1997 film The Truman Show – director Peter Weir chose to use it to underscore the climactic scene of Jim Carrey’s character being spoken to by a god-like Ed Harris.

Several compilation albums also feature the classical piece Kilar wrote based on his score for Życie za Życie; a 14-minute tone poem called Requiem Pere Kolbe was recorded by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Poland under the direction of conductor Kazimierz Kord. There does appear to be a soundtrack CD available titled ‘Father Kolbe/Life For Life/Leben Für Leben’, but it’s not entirely clear whether this a classical re-recording, or the actual film score album.



Kilar’s first major American film was director Francis Ford Coppola rich, erotic retelling of Bram Stoker’s classic novel of undead aristocrats and timeless love, Dracula. Sumptuously mounted, visually astonishing, deeply emotional, and occasionally quite terrifying, the film is a masterpiece of the genre – one of my all time favorites. It featured an all star cast, including Gary Oldman as Count Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina Murray, Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker, and Anthony Hopkins as Abraham Van Helsing, and was as much a love story as it was a tale of bloodthirsty horror, re-imagining Dracula as a tragic anti-hero searching for his lost love, and cursed to be immortal after renouncing God.

Kilar’s music is simply sensational. Romantic and longing when capturing the essence of the relationship between Dracula and Mina, thrilling when dealing with the hunt for the deadly vampire, and utterly terrifying when depicting the undead monster and his nightmarish brides, it represents everything that is great about Kilar’s music.

“The Brides,” “Love Remembered,” “Mina/Dracula,” and “Love Eternal” stand at the pinnacle of the romance, a series of lush, gorgeous, enveloping themes for luxurious cellos, soaring strings, delicate woodwinds, and rich brass, that are just sensational. Recurring themes for both Mina and Dracula weave in and out of the score, as does the propulsive action theme, “Vampire Hunters,” a memorable march underpinned by darkly brooding horns and percussion accompanied by turbulent, thrusting strings.

Kilar’s use of voices is especially noteworthy: they range from deeply erotic and passionate in “Mina’s Photo” to utterly bone-chilling in “Dracula: The Beginning,” and especially “The Ring of Fire,” the latter of which is one of the most sonically horrifying pieces of music I have ever heard. There’s so much more I could say about this score, but just take my advice and buy it.

Track Listing: 1. Dracula – The Beginning (6:41), 2. Vampire Hunters (3:05), 3. Mina’s Photo (1:25), 4. Lucy’s Party (2:56), 5. The Brides (4:56), 6. The Storm (5:04), 7. Love Remembered (4:10), 8. The Hunt Builds (3:25), 9. The Hunter’s Prelude (1:29), 10. The Green Mist (0:54), 11. Mina / Dracula (4:47), 12. The Ring of Fire (1:51), 13. Love Eternal (2:23), 14. Ascension (0:50), 15. End Credits (6:42), 16. Love Song for a Vampire (written and performed by Annie Lennox) (4:21). Columbia Records 472746-2, 54 minutes 59 seconds.



König der Letzten Tage was a German TV mini-series directed by Tom Toelle, starring Christoph Waltz and Mario Adorf. Set in the 1530s during the Wiedertaeufer period, it tells the story of the power struggle between different factions of both the clergy and the aristocracy, as a new protestant religious movement threatens the hierarchy and dominance of the Catholic church. Waltz plays Jan van Leyden, the charismatic leader of the Anabaptists, who became a savior to the common people in the city of Münster after the Catholic leaders laid siege to the city for more than a year.

Wojciech Kilar was a devoutly religious man, and König der Letzten Tage gave him the opportunity to pull out all the stops in terms of music that glorifies God. The score is a rich, highly classical, liturgical masterpiece that blends beautiful passages of string writing, tender intimacy, and the solemnity of early Latin church music, with some more grand music that speaks to the darker, more powerful side of religion.

The showstopper for most will be the opening piece, “Gloria – Die Wiedertaeufer,” an unstoppable march of strings and rhythmic percussion that gradually becomes bigger and grander, climaxing in an enormous outburst of choral majesty as the passionate voices sing ‘gloria in excelsis’. There’s a Morricone vibe to this piece in the minimalist construction and repeated phrases, but it’s just exhilarating, and is one of Kilar’s all-time greatest cues.

Other cues of note include the enormous and portentous “Miserere – Die Buesser” with its huge gongs and cymbals, the Gothic and brooding “Sanctus – Der Prophet,” and “Der Falsche Engel,” which offers a different renaissance arrangement of the main Gloria theme for an angelic choir. Elsewhere, “Engele Melodie” features some superb, majestic emotional writing for strings and cor anglais that is just sublime; “Die Unmoegliche Liebe” is a rhapsodic piece for strings and harpsichord; “Die Eroberung” revisits the main theme again, but transposes it to the darkest, deepest corners of the string section; it just goes on and on. It’s one of his career best.

The soundtrack from König der Letzten Tage was released on CD in Europe on the Decca label, but is somewhat obscure these days, and may be difficult to find at a reasonable price.

Track Listing: Gloria – Die Wiedertaeufer (3:57), 2. Miserere – Die Buesser (1:41), 3. Engele – Melodie (3:34), 4. Sanctus – Der Prophet (4:49), 5. Der Falsche Engel (5:16), 6. Die Unmoegliche Liebe (2:36), 7. Die Belagerung (2:05), 8. Agnus Dei – Clarissas Thema (2:17), 9. Knipperdollings Tanz (1:35), 10. Clarissas Tod (2:16), 11. Die Nacht (2:07), 12. Die Eroberung (6:51), 13. Engeles Traum (2:06), 14. Die Hinrichtung (1:37), 15. Miserere – Engeles Kind (4:47), 16. Gloria (Schluss) (3:25). Decca 443-253-2, 50 minutes 59 seconds.



Death and the Maiden is an intense psycho-drama directed by Roman Polanski, starring Sigourney Weaveaver, Ben Kingsley, and Stuart Wilson. Based on the play by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman, it follows an evening in the life of Paulina Escobar, who becomes convinced that the guest her lawyer husband brings home for dinner is the same man who kidnapped, tortured and raped her years ago during a period of military dictatorship. As the evening develops Paulina tries to make the man confess his crime, and even forces her husband to represent the guest in a mock trial that she devises, but before long doubts creep in as to the man’s guilt or innocence.

Kilar’s music is as intense as one would expect for a film such as this. The score is built around a recurring idea, “Paulina’s Theme,” which features a hauting flute solo accompanied by deep, sonorous string chords and a tinkling harpsichord, and religioso chord progression accents. In later cues the theme i9nhabits the darkest corners of the orchestra, with cues like “Paulina’s Revenge” churning its way through performances for bass flutes, ground bass passacaglias, guttural brass chords, and slow, precise tempi. A second theme, related to Ben Kingsley’s character, is less prominent, but gets a large-scale statement “Roberto’s Last Chance,” a spectacular scherzo for frantic brass, shrill woodwinds, and militaristic percussion.

A couple of thunderous action cues, notably “Paulina’s Escape,” “Paulina in Charge,” and the final moments of the aforementioned “Paulina’s Revenge” – explosions of pounding piano and drums – enliven the score, but for the most part Kilar’s work here is dark, menacing, and full of overwhelming sadness and grief. Despite this, Kilar’s music always remains tonal, consonant, and theme bases, allowing the listener to wallow in the lavish tragedy of it all.

The score also features a brand new, complete 44-minute performance of Franz Schubert’s Quartet in D Minor D810 – also known as Death and the Maiden – by the Keller Quartet. This piece is important in the context of the film as it acts as a ‘trigger’ for Paulina because the music was played constantly through her torturous ordeal.

Track Listing: 1. Death and the Maiden: Allegro (17:14), 2. Death and the Maiden: Andante Con Moto (13:45), 3. Death and the Maiden: Scherzo – Allegro Molto (3:41), 4. Death and the Maiden: Presto (10:07), 5. Paulina’s Vigil (2:36), 6. Paulina’s Theme (3:45), 7. Paulina’s Escape (0:55), 8. Roberto Trapped (0:54), 9. Paulina’s Revenge (3:31), 10. Paulina in Charge (1:10), 11. Paulina’s Secret (2:43), 12. Roberto’s Last Chance (3:27), 13. The Confession (4:50). Erato 4509-98142-2, 68 minutes 32 seconds.



Śmierć Jak Kromka Chleba [Death as a Slice of Bread] is a Polish drama film directed by Kazimierz Kutz, and starring Janusz Gajos and Jerzy Trela. It tells the true story of the 1981 Pacification of Wujek, a strike-breaking action by the Polish police and army at the Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice, which resulted in the massacre of nine striking miners. The event was a major socio-political milestone in Polish culture, as it was one of the catalysts that helped the Solidarność movement of Lech Wałęsa – who was simultaneously involved in a struggle for workers rights in the shipyards of Gdansk – begin the fight that would eventually lead to Poland’s political freedom from communism.

Five cues from Śmierć Jak Kromka Chleba are included on the Muzyka Filmowa 2 album, running for a total of 9:55. As one might expect, considering the subject matter, the score is one of Kilar’s darkest and most serious works. The score contains a great deal of stark, dissonant writing in the first, third, and fourth cues, which are mostly a series of low, brooding string sustains punctuated by con legno slaps, bitter percussion rumbles, and staccato piano clusters.

However, Kilar’s melodic side does show it’s face occasionally, and both the second and fifth cues are more consonant in their approach, although again the music is mostly comprised of sorrowful shifting string writing, with higher violins playing off against ground basses and cellos, lamenting for fate of the striking miners, crushed under the boot of brutal authoritarianism.



The Portrait of a Lady is a British romantic drama directed by Jane Campion, based on the classic novel by Henry James. It’s a story about love, lust, and exploitation, and tells the story of a young American woman who, after inheriting a large amount of money and moving to Italy, falls victim to a Machiavellian plot perpetrated by two other American expatriates who ‘befriend’ her. The film stars Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, and Barbara Hershey, and is a stunningly rendered period drama, told with impeccable taste and an eye for cinematic beauty. It’s also overwhelmingly dull and pretentious, and would have been one of the only films I have walked out of the cinema on – were in not for Wojciech Kilar’s score.

Kilar’s music is a bonafide five star masterpiece, one of the best of his career, that year, and the entire 1990s. I have often described Kilar’s music for this score is like ‘listening to velvet,’ and I still think it’s apt, especially as it relates to this score. This is music which slowly overwhelms you with its deeply lush and luxurious romance, its hauntingly rich cello and string writing, and its hypnotic minimalist piano base. Every single cue on the album is absolutely wonderful, a mini-opus of its own, that showcases a particular instrument, backed by the rest of the orchestra.

A couple of recurring thematic ideas weave their way in and out of the score as it progresses, but this is not the score’s real focus and, to be honest, it’s not really that important when you have music as gorgeous as this. From the recorder and flute duet in the “Prologue” and the “Epilogue” to the shimmering strings in “The Portrait of a Lady” and “A Certain Light,” the soft and inviting oboes in “Flowers of Firenze,” the verdant cellos in “Twilight Cellos,” the unadorned bass flute solo in “Cypresses,” the Gothic chord progressions of “Phantasms of Love,” and the solo piano in “Love Remains,” this is one of those rare scores where every second of every cue is musically worthwhile, and has something to say.

If that were not enough, the album features three pieces by classical composer Franz Schubert; two piano impromptus performed by the great Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and a performance of the Death and the Maiden String Quartet in D Minor performed by The Brindisi Quartet. The whole thing is an absolute masterpiece.

Track Listing: 1. Prologue: My Life Before Me (4:08), 2. The Portrait of a Lady (5:48), 3. Flowers of Firenze (3:59), 4. Twilight Cellos (3:05), 5. A Certain Light (6:48), 6. Cypresses (2:06), 7. Impromptu in G Flat, D899 No.3 (written by Franz Schubert, performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet) (6:47), 8. Impromptu in A Flat, D899 No.4 (written by Franz Schubert, performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet) (7:04), 9. String Quartet in D Minor, D810 – Death and the Maiden (written by Franz Schubert, performed by the Brindisi Quartet) (8:21), 10. Epilogue: The Portrait of a Lady (5:12), 11. Phantasms of Love (4:00), 12. The Kiss (2:04), 13. Love Remains (3:05), 14. End Credits (5:05). London Records 455011-2, 67 minutes 38 seconds.


CWAŁ (1996)

Cwał [At Full Gallop] is a Polish socio-political comedy film written and directed by Krzysztof Zanussi. The film is set in Warsaw in the 1950s and stars Bartosz Obuchowicz as Hubert, a 10-year-old boy who is sent to live with his aunt. Missing his family and friends, Hubert begins to connect with the world around him through his obsession with a particular branch of the Polish military, who ride past his apartment every day on horseback. The film is both a coming of age comedy, and a critique of post-war Stalinist social policies, and was a critical success in its home country. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 69th Academy Awards in 1996, but was not accepted as a nominee.

Three cues from Kilar’s score for Cwał are included on the Warsaw to Hollywood album, running for a total of 4:21. The opening “Générique” is a pretty, gentle melody for solo piano, a little downbeat but fill of heartfelt emotion, which gradually picks up a soft string backing to flesh out the sound and give Hubert’s life a touch of pathos.

Two additional cues, both called “Galop,” are fun and lively scherzos for the full orchestra, bouncy and pompous, and which appear to intentionally mimic the sprightly gait of trotting horses. Kilar’s instrumental ideas feature layers of complementary strings, high violins over rhythmic cellos, with occasional guest appearances from the brass section, and rapped snares. Kilar was clearly trying to convey the pageantry of the horsebacked soldiers which so enrapture young Hubert, and he does so with skill.



Fantôme Avec Chauffeur is a French comedy film written by Francis Veber and directed by Gérard Oury. It stars Philippe Noiret and Gérard Jugnot as, respectively, the CEO of a large industrial company, and his loyal chauffeur, both of whom are killed in mysterious circumstances as a result of the CEO’s corruption and shady dealings. However, unexpectedly, the ghosts of both men remain on Earth, and they soon find themselves ‘haunting’ the CEO’s teenage son in order to help him identify the killer. It doesn’t sound much like a comedy but apparently the spooky hi-jinks of the phantom and his chauffeur tickled French funny bones, as it was one of the most popular comedies of 1996 in that country!

Kilar was not known for his comedy scores, but Fântome Avec Chauffeur shows he certainly had the capacity for it. The music is light, bouncy, playful, and consistently tuneful, performed by a full orchestra with special emphasis on higher register instruments. The main theme, as heard in the opening cue “Le Fantôme, Son Fils, Son Chauffeur et Sa Voiture,” is a wonderfully ebullient dance for strings, piano, celesta, and an endless parade of darting, flighty woodwind textures that is utterly charming. There’s a slightly globular, self-important version of the theme for bassoons in “Le Cardinal” which is amusing, and a full-scale restatement in the finale, “Deux Fantômes au Paradis”.

Later, “Valse des Fantômes” is a superb traditional waltz that brims with elegant classicism, while its light restatements in “Que la Vie Etait Belle,” “L’Envol,” and “A Biarritz, Au Casino, Un Soir d’Eté” are dream-like and lovely. Conversely, “La Course du Fils à Travers les Puces” is an unexpectedly dramatic action sequence with racing strings, hammered pianos, flutter-tongued brass and pounding timpanis that seem to have been inspired by his Dracula score. The equally imposing “Chez Toutânkhamon” uses staccato piano, gong crashes, and sinister churning strings to create an atmosphere of impending dread.

Like Le Roi et l’Oiseau, Fântome Avec Chauffeur is one of Kilar’s more charming, accessible scores, and remains one of my favorites. It was originally released on CD in France on the Auvidis label in 1996, and was re-released (with identical content) in 2014 by the French boutique Disques CinéMusique label.

Track Listing: 1. Le Fantôme, Son Fils, Son Chauffeur et sa Voiture (5:00),,2. Valse des Fantômes (2:42), 3. La Course du Fils à Travers les Puces (2:46), 4. Que la Vie Était Belle (3:02), 5. Une Française à New York (1:27), 6. Papa, Tu Es Toujours Là (2:18), 7. Le Cardinal (2:38), 8. L’Envol (4:15), 9. Chez Toutânkhamon (2:22), 10. A Biarritz, Au Casino, Un Soir d’Été (2:15), 11. Deux Fantômes au Paradis (2:38). Auvidis Travelling K-1024, 31 minutes 27 seconds.



Pan Tadeusz is a period drama directed by the great Andrzej Wajda, based on the famous poem written in 1834 by Adam Mickiewicz, who is widely regarded as the Shakespeare of Polish culture. Starring Boguslaw Linda, Daniel Olbrychski, Andrzej Seweryn and Michal Zebrowski, the film is a dramatic, affectionate, and sometimes humorous illustration of the life of the Polish gentry during the early 19th century, concentrating specifically on a feud between two noble families – one Polish, one Lithuanian – and the way in which their escalating dispute affects the community. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 72nd Academy Awards in 1999, but was not accepted as a nominee.

Pan Tadeusz is, for my money, one of the best scores of Kilar’s career. The centerpieces of the score are the two long romantic themes, “Świątynia Dumania” and “Kochajmy Się,” both of which are heartbreakingly beautiful, and are the closest Kilar has ever come to sounding like John Barry. Kilar’s orchestrations are lush and more velvety, with a familiar cello passacaglia grinding underneath a series of sumptuous violin patterns. Further cues, notably “Tadeusz i Zosia” and “Tadeusz i Telimena,” reprise the thematic material from the romantic suite, invoking dreamlike textures and inducing soft moods.

However, outside these cues, Pan Tadeusz plays like a sampler of the best possible examples of each of Kilar’s writing styles. The opening “Inwokacja” is pastoral and graceful, summery and warm. “Polowanie” and “Rok 1812” are both heraldic calls-and-responses for brass and percussion, the latter eventually turning into a buoyant march. “Mrówki” is a superb, dainty scherzo for the woodwind section that sounds like variation on the theme from Fantôme Avec Chauffeur.

Both “Tomasz, Karabelę!” and “Bitwa” are stormy action cues, with loud and heavy ostinatos reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The spectacular “Polonez” is a magnificent classical dance, brisk and bubbly, which intentionally pastiches the polonaise Frédéric Chopin himself wrote in recognition of Mickiewicz’s work, and which has become a popular standalone piece in its own right in Poland.

The CD was released in Poland on the EMI/Pomaton label in 2000, featuring all of Kilar’s score and an original song, “Soplicowo,” which I actually quite like, and should still be available from any decent specialty store.

Please follow this link on order to read my full review of this score: https://moviemusicuk.us/1999/10/22/pan-tadeusz-wojciech-kilar/

Track Listing: 1. Inwokacja (2:13), 2. Polowanie (1:31), 3. Echo (0:59), 4. Świątynia Dumania (4:34), 5. Mrówki (1:51), 6. Tadeusz i Zosia (2:06), 7. Rok 1812 (2:29), 8. Tomasz, Karabelę! (1:38), 9. Zaścianek (0:39), 10. Bitwa (2:43), 11. Śmierć Jacka Soplicy (1:08), 12. Tadeusz I Telimena (1:11), 13. Koncert Jankiela (1:15), 14. Kochajmy Się (6:27), 15. Polonez (4:41), 16. Inwokacja (3:00), 17. Soplicowo (written by Grzegorz Turnau and Aleksander Leszek Moczulski, performed by Grzegorz Turnau and Stanislaw Soyka) (4:47), 18. Soplicowo – Instrumental (written by Grzegorz Turnau) (4:48). EMI/Pomaton 4999492, 43 minutes 44 seconds.



The Pianist was a massively successful and acclaimed drama film directed by Roman Polanski, which starred Adrian Brody as the real life concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who is forced to live in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto after his country is invaded by Nazis in World War II. It’s a searing, deeply emotional, overwhelmingly bleak portrayal of what life was like for Polish Jews during that terrible period in the 1940s. At the 75th Academy Awards, The Pianist won Oscars for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Brody, and was also nominated for four other awards, including the Best Picture.

Wojciech Kilar’s score for The Pianist is as sparse and restrained as the film needed: much of the film’s music is given over to the classical pieces Szpilman would play in the cafes, pianos bars, and concert halls of Warsaw before the war, and which he subsequently used to maintain his sanity and his humanity during his fight for survival. In fact, only one Kilar cue is included on the film’s accompanying soundtrack: “Moving to the Ghetto October 31, 1940”. It’s a brief, oddly quirky piece for solo clarinet and plucked strings which has its roots in Jewish folk music, but carries a sense of weight and resignation to it, as if musically depicting the drudgery of life in the ghetto; the precise rhythmic underbelly appears to mimic the trudging gait of the suffering.

The rest of the score is made up of various solo piano pieces by the legendary Franco-Polish classical composer Frédéric Chopin, all of which are quite beautiful, especially the last one “Mazurka in a Minor, Op.17 No.4” which is an original recording of a performance by Szpilman himself. Ironically, considering how little of his music is in the finished film, The Pianist is the only score Kilar wrote which recieved recognition from one of the major international awards bodies: a BAFTA nomination in 2002.

Track Listing: 1. Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor 1890 (4:10), 2. Nocturne in E-Minor, Op.72 No.1 (4:29), 3. Nocturne in C-Minor, Op.48 No.1 (5:55), 4. Ballade No.2 in F-Major, Op. 38 (7:39), 5. Ballade No. 1 in G-Minor, Op. 23 (8:59), 6. Waltz No. 3 in A-Minor, Op.34 No.2 (5:11), 7. Prelude in A-Minor, Op.28 No.4 (2:32), 8. Grand Polonaise Brilliante/Andante Spianato, Op. 22, Part One (4:26), 9. Grande Polonaise Brilliante/Andante Spianato, Op. 22, Part Two (9:30), 10. Moving To The Ghetto October 31, 1940 (1:52), 11. Mazurka in a Minor, Op.17 No.4 (3:42). Sony Classical SK-87739, 54 minutes 43 seconds.


ZEMSTA (2002)

Zemsta [Revenge] is a Polish comedy-drama film directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the influential play by Aleksander Fredro. It’s a comedy of errors, manners, political shenanigans, and long-enshrined nationalistic rivalries, set in a castle in the 1800s, where two rival lords (played by Andrzej Seweryn and Janusz Gajos) vie for supremacy from their respective halves of the same building, and compete for the love of the beautiful Hanna – despite the fact that she is in love with a third man, a wealthy merchant played by Roman Polanski.

The score is built around an astonishing, brilliant, flamboyant main theme, first heard in the opening “Mazur/Introdukcja,” written by Kilar with daring classical panache. It’s a masterpiece of dancing woodwinds, waltzing strings, thunderous snare drums, and militaristic brass, which pass repeated phrases around and between them over the course of almost four minutes. It’s wonderful, one of my all-time favorite Kilar pieces, and its subsequent statements are highlights – notably “Pani Barska/Rozwazania w Sali Rycerskiej,” the staggering “Rejent/Podgladanie/Ostinato Misterioso,” and the bombastic conclusive “Final”.

A second theme for the two lovers first appears in “Klara i Waclaw,” a delightful, graceful string and woodwind theme, and receives prominent restatements later for lush strings in “Rozwazanie Na Gorze,” and with intimate elegance in “Waclaw i Klara/Scena Balkonowa.” Other notable cues include the series of tragic-comic variations on the main mazurka theme which appears to become a recurring leitmotif for Polanski’s Papkin character, the harpsichord solo in “Podstolina,” and the bombastic percussion track “Bitwa,” a mass of clattering drums and clashing cymbals.

Unfortunately for English-speakers the soundtrack to Zemsta – released by Warner Music Poland in 2002 – is littered with dialogue clips performed by the cast, which breaks up the flow of the album. Its understandable why they are there – the original play was written octosyllabic verse, and the quotes and lines are as familiar to Poles and Shakespeare is to English speakers – but for those who don’t understand them it’s a chore to keep having to skip them. There are also two versions of a song, “Kot Kot” and “Oj Kot,” which are indescribable and have to be heard to be believed.

Track Listing: 1. Mazur/Introdukcja (3:40), 2. Powitanie Klary (0:37), 3. Klara i Waclaw (1:40), 4. Opowiesc o Zareczynach (1:04), 5. Papkin Nowy/Smutek Papkina/Blogoslawienstwo (0:20), 6. Pozegnanie z Zyciem/Przekazanie Testamentu (0:33), 7. Pojedynek/Lekcja Fechtunku (0:35), 8. Pani Barska/Rozwazania w Sali Rycerskiej (1:00), 9. Papkin (1:06), 10. Pojedynek/Rejent Na Dziale (0:27), 11. Rejent/Podgladanie/Ostinato Misterioso (1:07), 12. Przyjscie Podstoliny Do Rejenta (0:36), 13. Podstolina (1:04), 14. Powitanie Podstoliny/Pakin (0:20), 15. Rozwazanie Na Gorze (2:33), 16. Bitwa (0:24), 17. Przygotowanie Do Oswiadczyn (0:39), 18. Kot Kot (0:55), 19. Papkin/Droga Do Zamku Przez Zaspy (1:20), 20. Krokodyla Daj Mi Luby (0:25), 21. Waclaw i Klara/Scena Balkonowa (1:42), 22. Hej Perelka (0:42), 23. Wiwat Panstwo Mlodzi (0:11), 24. Toast (0:08), 25. Zgoda (0:13), 26. Mazur/Final (3:01), 27. Oj Kot (performed by Maryla Rodowicz, Patrycja Markowska, Justyna Steczkowska, Kaja Paschalska, Marek Torzewski, Andrzej Piaseczny, Artur Gadowski, Zbigniew Wodecki, Grzegorz Markowski, Tatiana Okupnik, Ryszard Rynkowski & Magda Femme) (3:24). Warner Music Poland 6325, 29 minutes 46 seconds.



Il Sole Nero [The Black Sun] is a Polish-Italian film, a revenge drama directed by Krzysztof Zanussi starring Valeria Golino as Agata, a young widow who, after the learning the identity of her husband’s killer, struggles with whether to forgive the killer or avenge her husband’s death. With the exception of the 2008 film Serce Na Dłoni [And a Warm Heart] and the 2014 film Obce Ciało [Foreign Body], both of which were also directed by Zanussi, it’s one of the last internationally recognized films Kilar scored prior to his death, and as such will be of importance to Kilar collectors.

The score almost plays like a ‘greatest hits’ compilation of the many solemn, string-and-piano themes Kilar wrote for dozens of earlier Polish films, many of which were also directed by Zanussi. The main theme, “The Black Sun,” is a deliciously dark piano rhapsody very much in the vein of his score for The Portrait of Lady, backed by a bed of dense, tragedy-laden strings and a morose, almost funereal tempo.

Later, “Agata’s Theme” is a softer, slightly gentler variation on the main Black Sun theme, while “Salvo’s Theme” has an unsettling, see-sawing effect in the piano writing which is quite hypnotic. The whole score has a brooding, pseudo-classical aspect that fans of Kilar’s music will appreciate; however, your tolerance of it will depend on how much of his previous work you are familiar with, and how much doom and gloom you can take in your orchestral writing.

This extremely short release by the Italian label CAM Original Soundtracks runs for just over 13 minutes, and is a pleasant enough diversion for fans of his style. Interestingly, both “Agata’s Theme” and “The Black Sun” were tracked into the soundtrack of the 2009 film Welcome scored by Nicola Piovani and Armand Amar, and appear on that film’s album too.

Please follow this link on order to read my review of this score: https://moviemusicuk.us/2007/06/15/il-sole-nero-wojciech-kilar/

Track Listing: 1. The Black Sun (2:35), 2. The Black Sun – Version 1 (1:49), 3. Manfredi’s Death (2:00), 4. The Funeral (1:43), 5. Agata’s Theme (1:53), 6. Salvo’s Theme (1:10), 7. The Fall (1:10), 8. Agata’s Theme – Version 1 (0:58). CAM Original Soundtracks CAM 515404-2, 13 minutes 18 seconds.

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