Love remains, movie theme from “Portrait of the Lady” (perf. Kuba Stankiewicz)
Another foreign commission for the composer, and another costume drama after Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and King of the Last Days (1993). The action in director Jane Campion ‘s The Portrait of a Lady adapts the famous Henry James novel and takes place between Victorian England and an idealized Italy. A young, independent American, Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman), rejects a marriage proposal from a wealthy English lord and the advances of her sensitive cousin Ralph (Martin Donovan), only to give in to the charm of Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), a dandy and collector raising a daughter on his own. However, theirs turns out to be an unhappy marriage; what's more, they hold opposed views on the future of Osmond’s daughter. Eventually, Archer appreciates her cousin’s affections, but only when he is on his deathbed.
Wojciech Kilar wrote a full suite of themes for the film. They were released on a Decca CD and as sheet music by PWM Edition. The suite opens and closes with one of the composer’s most beautiful film motifs: Prologue for recorders, with a swinging string accompaniment. Early instruments solo again and again, playing a simple phrase in parallel thirds or fourths, which creates an archaizing impression but also makes the composition light and round. Campion illustrates this prologue beautifully – and in contrast with the rest of the film – using black-and-white images of contemporary girls dancing and playing.
The second theme is Portrait of a Lady, in which a semiquaver grupetto or turn (a kind of musical embellishment) passes among the string instruments (except the double basses). It appears when the protagonist’s friend tells her about an rich, eccentric man from Florence who will soon win her heart. Later it accompanies two conversations about relationships and feelings. Other motifs include Flowers of Firenze (highlighting a change of location, a singing second-based melody is carried by oboe and violin), Love Remains (to the efforts of the tenacious lord, legatissimo piano arpeggios adorn a minimalist theme with strings in the background) and The Kiss (the climactic union of the protagonist and her cousin, as above but with a richer chord texture).
There is also a prominent presence of borrowed music in the diegesis of the film. When Isabel meets the woman who will turn out to be Osmond’s friend, that woman is playing Schubert Impromptus on piano (Op. 90, nos. 3 and 4). During a party given by the couple, we hear a string quartet (Schubert again, from his Death and the Maiden, but the less well-known second movement) and harpsichord (Bach’s Concerto No. 5 in F minor) while singing accompanies gossip and intrigues (Mauro Giuliani’s Sei cavatine Op. 39). When the Osmonds are going to a ball, dancers are accompanied by a full orchestra, with numerous solo displays (Quadrille and Overture from Die Fledermaus and the waltz Artist’s Life by Johann Strauss II).