The Ants, movie theme from “Pan Tadeusz: The Last Foray in Lithuania” (cond. Tomasz Radziwonowicz)
In terms of audience attendance and number of awards, this score was undoubtedly the composer’s greatest success apart from the Hollywood film Bram Stoker's Dracula. In Wajda’s adaptation of Poland’s national epic in verse, music is omnipresent, taking up about a quarter of the film's duration. There are no fewer than ten basic motifs, which Kilar used to create a nearly 25-minute suite. The score was subsequently published by PWM Edition and released by Pomaton EMI.
Let us begin with what the composer said about it:
They asked me how many times I had read Pan Tadeusz when writing this music. God forbid! Not even once. Because Wajda’s Pan Tadeusz is the only one that exists for me at the moment and I didn’t write music to Mickiewicz’s poem but to Wajda’s film. But Pan Tadeusz is there in every Pole, so it’s there in me, too, though I don’t keep it at my bedside. I have read it many times and all those scenes have stuck with me. It’s part of my Polishness. When it came to composing, the music seemed obvious.
Among these obvious themes, let us mention three, present in Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poem as well. First is the Dąbrowski Mazurka, which appears several times in the poem: in the chimes of the manor's clock at the beginning, played on a dulcimer in Jankiel’s inn and then during Jankiel’s concert. In the film, this theme appears briefly and is soon transformed into a polonaise (on the recording, a longer version of the latter can be heard in a performance by an early music ensemble). Finally, the hunt and Wojski’s horn or, rather, its echo, in which the Invocation theme is used. Each motif required a particularly thoughtful arrangement, a fact confirmed by the composer in an interview:
Everyone is waiting to see what this Pan Tadeusz will be like, the ants, the polonaise, everyone associates it with something, sometimes also with music. Because it’s about Polishness. And Polishness immediately brings to mind Chopin with that melancholic note, a bit of the kujawiak, but my wife quite rightly said to me: “Remember, it’s happening in Lithuania!” And I said this to Wajda and he agreed with me, agreed that we’re not going to refer to the treasury of easy effects, tickling, sentimental, national effects. With the exception of the polonaise, which, of course, must be a polonaise, the music should be universal.
Two themes play special roles in Wajda’s Pan Tadeusz. The first in the Invocation that begins the film with a smooth entry into a Paris salon and a “return” to Lithuania, a motif that will recur many times, associated with an image of the homeland (it will be heard for example as that Echo to the horn signal played by Wojski). Repetitive, “bird-like” woodwind passages hover in it over a broad arch – broad like Lithuania's Neman River – of a violin then cello melody; the third time the melody is taken over by French horns. The other important theme is the Polonaise. Its melody, before it is heard triumphantly in the finale of the film, appears in Jacek Soplica’s death scene, intoned by clarinet accompanied by strings. Kilar’s piece, which has become a national hit in Poland and has replaced Michał Kleofas Ogiński’s famous Farewell to the Homeland during formal school dances, is noteworthy for its variety of concertante instruments: first oboe, then flute and finally trumpet.
Three marching motifs appear in military scenes; among them, the Mahler-style Battle is heard twice: during a retrospect of the Horeszko Castle siege then in the scene when Russian troops clash with Polish gentry forces. The motif is characterized by a dry timpani and snare drum rhythm, sometimes accentuated by sforzati trumpet then, finally, as a staccato melody on xylophone. There is much more cheerfulness in 1812, introduced by French horn and bright sounds of the trumpets. Finally, during the foray against Soplicowo, a motif entitled Tomasz, My Sabre! clearly draws on the triple rhythm of the Polonaise.
Love scenes are accompanied by strings – cellos in Let Us Love One Another and violins in Tadeusz and Telimena (also known as Temple of Musing), with occasional contributions by flute in Tadeusz and Zosia (that instrument creates a distinction between the eponymous hero’s two loves). The lively Ants owes its witty tones to the bassoon. Two additional themes are Hunting – again with mandatory horns but also with characteristic echo-like “hunting” motifs – and Zaścianek, with motoric strings with percussion, used as a link between short scenes.