Palace Gardens, movie theme from ”The Leper” (cond. Jiří Hudec)
The third film adaptation of novelist Helena
Mniszkówna’s inter-war melodrama – a story of unhappy love between an
aristocrat and an impoverished woman from the gentry – was directed by Jerzy
Hoffman. Kilar’s famous waltz comes from this film, and became a hit at wedding
receptions in Poland, although in the film its role is by no means unequivocal:
there is something disturbing, even fatalistic in it. Interestingly, the melody
had appeared earlier, in Janusz Majewski’s horror film Lokis: A Manuscript
of Professor Wittembach (1970), in a piano arrangement. Yet although the
five-minute waltz is heard twice in The Leper, it is not the only
musical theme in the second film on which Kilar and Hoffman worked, after Three
Steps on Earth (1965).
The opening credits in The Leper are accompanied by a romantic, sweeping, Chopin-style initial theme: first performed by the orchestra (with trombones coming to the fore), then by piano with orchestra and finally by two solo instruments, violin and oboe. In the first few minutes of the film we meet its main protagonist, the governess Stefania Rudecka (Elżbieta Starostecka) – a beautiful, sensitive young woman – dressing in front of the mirror, dancing among fountains and running through trees of a palace park bathed in light. At that point, we hear the second theme, Palace Gardens. It is full of repeated notes and trills as well as dynamic contrasts, using broad crescendos and diminuendos.
A film about the upper classes would hardly work without salon music. That's why the English waltz is heard in a boudoir, and the first theme, in a violin version, is heard at an escritoire. Of course the governess, too, makes music beautifully: in one scene, she accompanies herself on piano, singing the Adam Mickiewicz poem Precz z moich oczu [Out of My Eyes]. This is a lush, even Rachmaninov-style arrangement, with double octaves and extended cadenzas. Yet the camera, as if following the protagonist’s soul, escapes through the window to the huge tree standing in the rain around which Stefania had danced at the beginning of the film.
The waltz, the best known theme from The Leper,
is introduced in an interesting fashion in the scene of the visit to the castle
by the main male protagonist, the nobleman Waldemar Michorowski (Leszek
Teleszyński), who falls in love with the lovely governess. On her own in the
ballroom, in her imagination she hears the motif played on a music box and
dances to music not heard yet by anyone else. The director and the composer use
a similar device later, adding a quiet violin tremolo to the anxiety felt by
Stefania in the gallery of ancestor portraits. Soon, however, Waldemar finds
his beloved and the first theme returns, played by solo violin, as he tries to
Finally, there comes the party in the garden, of key importance to the story, with an elegant band providing dance accompaniment from a bandstand (Piotr Marczewski arranged a fine shimmy and a tango, though Hoffman regularly turns the volume of the music down to bring dialogues to the fore). Eventually the time comes for a sweeping waltz with a disturbingly descending motif – Waldemar asks the governess to dance, not the count's daughter, causing widespread outrage. Yet the two protagonists, their eyes fixed on each other, do not see the blurred, angry faces around them – they whirl to distraction in the waltz.
A harbinger of impending tragedy comes when the
governess is forced to quit by her employers, and the despairing Waldemar
chases her in a carriage like a madman: percussion and trumpets feature
prominently in the first theme, with solo violins returning as the protagonists
confess their love to each other. The “palace garden” theme returns again in
full orchestral glory when the young couple enjoy a carriage ride. The waltz,
too, reappears, for the climactic dance scene at the opera, when Stefania
realizes that she will always remain a “leper” to the upper classes. The
aristocrats try to drive Waldemar from his beloved, who can't escape the circle
of dancers. Finally noise creeps into the music and Stefania flees outdoors,
into raging wind and rain; she keeps running and running.
At her funeral, the first theme is heard again, played on piano. It appears after significant dissonance and a dramatic pause, ending a reminder of the opening bars of the song Out of My Eyes, played pianissimo in a pointillist manner.
Excerpts from The Leper, dir. J. Hoffman, 1975, © Studio Filmowe KADR