The Rambler :: blog

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Music since 1960: Kilar: Krzesany 

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Forty years of modern composition and what this music means to me.

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No lengthy analysis for this one. Nor is much demanded. Kilar is now best known in his later career as composer-of-choice for directors such as Roman Polanski - you can hear his work on The Ninth Gate and The Pianist, for example - but he broke through in the 60s with the wave of Polish composers that included Penderecki and Górecki. He was about as heavily promoted by the Polish state publishing house, PWM, as any of his colleague at the time, but like them his music was not well received in the UK. One piece in particular - Riff 62 - crops up on a number of occasions in concert reviews through the early 60s (it's a rare piece of its type in getting more than one mention at least), to general bemusement. Like much of Kilar’s work of the time, it's a pretty raw slab of sonorism, and the general opinion was that it works well enough, but you wouldn't want to hear it a second time.

Although a little later, Krzesany falls into a similar sonic bracket, but, typically, I'd love to hear it again. I first discovered the work on a rare foray into my University's principal orchestra. My break came because Krzesany requires four oboists (it's quadruple wind all round). And three of those ahead of me in the queue couldn’t make it. Yes, I was seventh choice oboist as a student. Which I suppose was fair enough given that I hardly practised.

Anyway, since the concert, I don't think I've heard Krzesany again. It's extremely immediate in its musical language – not easy on the ear as such, but there’s not much subtlety in Kilar's musical language. Most of the fourth oboe part involved fortissimo runs from the highest note of the instrument to the lowest, and there was a long ffff passage of repeating top As - not the easiest note to hammer out at fortissi-issi-issi-mo. What really sticks in the mind though - and this is what made the piece such a riotous work for student orchestra - is the closing section. By this stage in his career, Kilar - similarly to Górecki - had discovered the music of the góral people of the Tatra mountains in the south of Poland; in fact 'Krzesany' is a 'sparking' or fire-leaping dance of the region. For the work's coda, then, Kilar has all the strings grinding out, barrel-organ style, a fast Tatra melody, over and over and over. On top of this, the remaining members of the (large) orchestra enter, section by section, in completely free improvisation. Kilar includes some detailed instructions on the sort of improvisation he's after, but the summarised version is that we should all be playing everything, all of the time. Whether he meant this to include the theme from 'The Muppets' didn't get in the way of one or two of the brass section during rehearsals. In the closing bars, as the Tatra melody accelerates to a frenzy and the rest of the orchestra are threatening to blow the roof off the auditorium, the brass stand and belt out a whopping C major chord over the top. As a musical gesture it's about as subtle as Pantera, but by 'eck it's bloody good fun.

Krzesany isn't exactly an obscure piece on recording as it happens, so follow me in grabbing a copy; then throw it on the stereo, loud.

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