Galapade #1, theme from the TV series „Napoléon et l’Europe”
While dances Wojciech Kilar composed for Polish films became hits straightaway, and enjoy a life of their own outside cinema, the question of his marches (which are present in foreign films also) seems more complicated. Their substantial number, their undeniable musical quality andkey roles in illustrating images suggest that this was one of the composer’s favourite genres, enabling him to demonstrate technical skills and instrumental inventiveness with a real flourish. The fact that these marches seem more strongly integrated with images than the dances may explain why only a few examples in Kilar’s late oeuvre – music written for Andrzej Wajda’s A Chronicle of Amorous Incidents (1986), Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Krzysztof Zanussi’s In Full Gallop (1996) and Roman Polański’s The Ninth Gate (1999) – were published as sheet music or on CD, which popularized them.
It's not without reason that works in this genre usually open a film (as with opera overtures), accompanying the opening credits. They set the rhythm and add a dash of panache, while smoothly transferring the viewer to the world of the film. This happens in in Kazimierz Kutz’s No One Is Calling (1960), for example, and in Stanisław Lenartowicz’s Giuseppe in Warsaw (1964), Stanisław Różewicz’s Westerplatte (1967), Zanussi’s The Contract (1980) and Gérard Oury’s Ghost with Driver (1995). Occasionally, a march is heard at a film's end, especially one which concludes dramatically, such as Kutz’s Salt of the Black Earth (1969 and Wajda’s Korczak (1990), or at its climax (Bram Stoker's Dracula, In Full Gallop).
Though marches don't necessarily accompany battle scenes, this is often the case. An effective example is the Cavalry March from A Chronicle of Amorous Incidents, in which Kilar’s music is inextricably linked to images of cavalry lancers galloping (amateur videos using the piece and posted on YouTube indicate that the march and the film scenes it accompanies have become one for many viewers). A similar example is The Year 1812 from Wajda’s Pan Tadeusz (1999), a march associated with the arrival of Napoleon’s army; also in this film is The Battle between Poles and Russians. These themes clearly show the composer’s inventiveness in differentiating melodic aspects of the pieces (a broad French-horn arch in the first theme, a piercing xylophone in the second). As with The Year 1812, Napoleonic connotations are found in Gallopade 1, a march composed for the TV channel France 3 for the series Napoléon et l'Europe (1991).
Earlier, Kilar had composed marches to war films, two of which are particularly worthy of note: Westerplatte, where a trumpet call in the opening credits is interspersed with rousing snare drums and an original melody of pizzicato strings, and Bohdan Poręba’s Hubal (1973), the story of Major Henryk "Hubal" Dobrzański, a hero of the September Campaign at the outset of the Second World War. In the prologue of Hubal, consisting of archival wartime footage, an accordion waltz provides ironic counterpoint to the march heard moments later. Initially, when we learn in the opening dialogue that a decision to disband the regiment has been made in the face of certain defeat, we hear only quiet snare drums. However, when Hubal assumes command of a cavalry unit to continue the fight in spite of everything, the music becomes more dynamic, the drums joined by orchestra and choir singing a soldierly vocalise. The main theme is carried by the first violins, sometimes supported by French horns; this is followed by a slow epilogue. As with In Full Gallop, in which a galop accompanies the protagonists’ horse-riding escapades, in Hubal each theme is associated primarily with horse-riding scenes, providing a “natural” illustration to it, as it were. “Soldierly” connotations are also attached to the march at the beginning of Giuseppe in Warsaw, heard as the eponymous hero, an Italian soldier returning from the eastern front, is travelling by train. The function of the piece is rather ironic; now and again, it is interwoven with a sentimental dulcimer motif played.
Kilar has witty stylizations to his credit, too, for example in The Contract, where the marching music of the main theme reveals polonaise rhythms in the accompaniment – prompted, as the composer explained, by the presence of a Polonez , a Polish car named with the Polish word for “polonaise”, in the scene being illustrated... In Paul Grimault’s animated film The King and the Mockingbird (1979), a fast-paced theme, emphasized by a crazy rhythm of snare drums and a descending melody of the trombones, appears as the protagonists – a shepherdess and a chimney sweep – run down a long flight of stairs. Generally, though, for instrumentation the composer resorts to snare drum, timpani and piano in low registers in the accompaniment, with the melody carried by flute and trumpet (Lenartowicz’s Giuseppe in Warsaw, Wajda’s The Promised Land and A Chronicle of Amorous Incidents, and Oury’s Ghost with Driver). Notable exceptions to this rule include No One Is Calling (xylophone and saxophone), In Full Gallop (string orchestra) and The Ninth Gate (harpsichord and wind instruments).
Kilar's marches, in addition to their functions as film “openers” and triggers of associations with war and soldiering, have other roles to playl. Those in the fastest tempi usually accompany escape or chases, and their task is, of course, to accentuate movement, as in The King and the Mockingbird or Stanisław Lenartowicz’s Red and Gold (1969). This is the role of the three marches from Bram Stoker's Dracula (The Hunters Prelude, Hunt Builds and The Storm), which herald the arrival of the vampire or spur his hunters to action. In these pieces, Kilar builds suspense using dynamics, percussion rhythms and varied registers of instruments (from bassoons to piccolo) and even choir. This is surely the composer’s most dynamic soundtrack, competing in this respect with The Ninth Gate soundtrack with its inventively orchestrated, slightly syncopated bolero-march (Corso/Plane to Spain), harpsichord and wind instruments alternately providing the background while trumpet, bassoon and clarinet appear as solo instruments.
In The Ninth Gate, dance stylization and strings used later (Plane to Spain) jokingly comment on the transfer of action to Spain, and there is something of Shostakovich’s style throughout the soundtrack. A similar principle is found in the playful march in Wajda's The Promised Land, as if straight from a Rossini overture (though most Kilar marches seem modelled on Mahler). It provides a distorted mirror for a lust for quick money and success felt by the girl who's abused by the factory owner, and for the rebellious Moryc and the bewildered Karol. In stressing the drama of on-screen events, a special role is played by the string-and-percussion march from Kazimierz Kutz’s The Pearl in the Crown (1971). Its quick tempo contrasts with awkward movements of Silesian miners trying to help their friend on whom German gendarmes have soiled. Only towards the finale does the piece slow in a piano coda, a sign that all will end well, after everything.
In conclusion, let's look at Kilar’s funeral marches. A rare subgenre in the composer’s oeuvre, film pieces of this kind usually play an important role, accompanying key scenes. This is the case with the finale of Salt of the Black Earth, when in the scene with insurgents fleeing from German soldiers, we initially hear only the stamping of their feet. Suspense builds: maybe they'll manage to get away? Repetitions of a low piano note don't bode well, however. Then the soldiers appear at the corner and start shooting. Broken, ascending, solemn phrases are carried by the strings followed by the brass. The camera slows and bloodstains appear on their shirts. A passage from a funeral march with a powerful brass section is heard in Krzysztof Zanussi’s Hypothesis (1972) when the fate of the professor is being decided. In this case, it is more of a brief symbol.
Musically, the most refined of these marches is Umschlagplatz from Wajda's Korczak. The impression it makes is all the stronger given that it is heard only at the film's end, though its fragmentary motif has been announced several times. Janusz Korczak’s passage with the children through the ruins of Warsaw has a semblance of being buried alive, the increasing dynamics and orchestration adding pathos to the scene.