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Composed: 1974

Length: c. 15 minutes

Orchestration: 4 flutes (2 = piccolo), 4 oboes, 4 clarinets (2 = E-flat clarinets), 4 bassoons (2 = contrabassoons), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, timpani (4 players), percussion (bass drum, snare drum, 4 tom-toms, 3 gongs, large gong, cymbals, cow bells, sleigh bell, sheep-bells, triangles, crotales, church bells), and strings 

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: January 25, 2014, Krzysztof Urbanski conducting

About this Piece

Kilar’s name has long been prominent in his native Poland (he was born in what is now Ukraine in 1932), first as a leading avant-gardist – often bracketed with Krzysztof Penderecki and Henry Górecki in the late 1960s and early ’70s – then as the creator of folk-oriented, more “populist” music, and as a prolific composer for films by Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Roman Polanski, including the latter’s Death and the Maiden, The Ninth Gate, and The Pianist; Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (try, on YouTube, the gorgeous “Love Song for a Vampire” – really! – sung on the soundtrack by Annie Lennox); and Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady. The trademarks of his folk/film scores are a huge orchestra making huge sounds, with grinding cellos and basses, the occasional deeply romantic theme, walloping climaxes and, frequently, minimalist chord progressions.

You’ll hear it all in his Krzesany (1974), employing harmonies of the songs and dances – the krzesanie, the word derived from “striking of the flint” – of the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. It marks Kilar’s avowed farewell to the avant-garde. “At a certain moment,” the composer noted, “I realized that the search for new, shocking sound sources had been exhausted. I decided that it could be a shock, too, to allude to something which had been deemed a closed chapter [i.e. folk music, taboo during the avant-garde era]. Thus I came to write Krzesany.” But don't expect Soviet-style simplistic uplift.

The seed of the composition is three chords the composer had noted down “under the influence of stays in Zakopane [in the Tatras]... They lay on the piano for a long time, but I didn’t know what to do with them. And then I went to Spain... to watch the corrida. Perhaps it is to the corrida that I owe that ‘bloodiness’ characteristic of Krzesany, because it was in Spain that I thought up the continuation.”

Krzesany is in one movement, with many segments, some delicately melodic, others heavy-booted marches, chamber-like dream moods, and grotesque balloonings of orchestral sonority, interspersed with peremptory near-silences. Its final measures constitute a crescendo of motoric, thumping, snarling, and blasting – and a climax of braying, whistling, Slavonic jubilation. -Herbert Glass