|Music: Speaking your own language|
|Written by Agnieszka Flakus|
|Saturday, 14 July 2007 15:15|
Wojciech Kilar - is one of the most talented and best known Polish
composers around the world. A creator of classical music and film
soundtracks. He has been composing for over 50 years and has written
music to over 130 films. He is a member of the Polish Academy of Skills
and was awarded the PhD. title from the University of Opole, and is the
laureate of the Culture Foundation Award.
You compose film and symphonic music. Which one do you prefer?
Wojciech Kilar: Of course, the one, which bares the name Wojciech Kilar on it, and the one, which I am solely responsible for, and the one that has a chance to survive? Film music is functional; I play the role of one of the assistants of the director, and I am not necessary the first one in line. Besides, when I pass the music over to the director, from that moment on it is up to him what he does with it, what ever he wishes, he transforms it for his own use, he cuts it, extends it, repeats, turns it up or down, amplifies it, and performs many other acoustic procedures. After that, I am not even interested what happens to my music. Some composers get frustrated and often quarrel with the directors, claiming that their music is being crippled. I on the on the other hand believe that the director as the sole author of the film is entitled to do with the music whatever he wishes.
Yet another issue is that in film soundtracks there is nothing, what is most difficult or most important. A piece of music is like a "story", having a beginning, development and an end. However, in films they are broken down into bits, lasting few, or a dozen or so seconds, or a few minutes. In this aspect, it is music which is much easier to write.
Finally, the third point is that when I write a symphony or a mass, I start from nothing. Literally. However, when I work with a film, I am able to see the picture which gives me inspiration for my work. Besides, film music has a short life, very rarely happens that it lives its own life, perhaps only one song, but it normally dies along with the film. Therefore, there is nothing to brag about your success in film music since it all depends whether the film itself was successful or not. I myself have many examples of my music being successful only because it had been written for a movie, which was also successful. And quite the opposite. Music that has been regarded as exceptionally successful as in the example of "The Portrait of The Lady" directed by Jane Campion, that had been put together for 2 years in Los Angeles and was recognized as the best soundtrack of 1997, did not sell on CD, because the film had been a flop. On the other hand, music to Coppola's "Dracula" sold very well because the film was a great success at the box office. Without any offence to anyone, music for the "Titanic" was at the most average, but it was sold in millions as the film was successful. Therefore it is clear that for me it is more important to speak my own language to speak to my countrymen, about issues which are important to me.
You have graduated many superb music schools; you have also received a scholarship from the French government. When and how did you become interested in composing?
W.K. I was forced to learn music (laughs). My father was a doctor, mother an actress, so my house was full of artistic atmosphere. That is why I was forced to learn to play the piano. However, it was very tiring and I could not understand it at all. This situation changed when we moved to Rzeszow, having escaped from Lvov, which had been invaded by the Bolsheviks. In Rzeszow I attended a music school and I had a great professor Kazimierz Mirski, who discovered my interests and allowed me to play modern music as for those times: Szymanowski, Debussy.I suddenly became interested in it. In addition, my stepfather, mother's second husband, was also a composer and would write songs to different theatrical plays. So, I also began to try it.
Do you remember your first real piece of music that you composed?
W.K.: Yes, I do. I wrote Polonez, which is normally played at three quarters time step, but since I had no idea about it, I tried to squeeze it into a sixth eights time step. Then there was the copy of "Mazurek" by Szymanowski, as well as some impressionist miniatures.
Was it your interest in Szymanowski's music that made you move to the mountain region of Poland?
W.K.: Oh, definitely. Highlander's music is an inexhaustible source of muse, and not only for me, but for my friends as well. It is a fantastic music, one of a kind.
What makes it so fantastic?
W.K.: It has two great features: not only the melody, but also the band itself. A highlander band is something phenomenal. It really is a complete music in its own, and inspirational at the same time. Let us look at Szymanowski or Chopin- they have used it as their inspiration as well. I realized it when I met the highlanders here in Chicago. I told them that if it had not been for them, their culture and tradition, which has been passed on to me from generations, I probably would have not come to Chicago. Simply because my most popular pieces of music played all over the world, would have never been created if it had not been for highlander's music. It has been already proven. My most popular pieces have been played for more than 30 years; and I owe it to highlander's music.
Do you in any degree feel as a highlander, since your most successful pieces have been inspired by highlander's music? I also know that you are a fan of the mountains.
W.K.: Since I was born in Lvov I have many citizenship. I feel like I belong to every part of Poland including the mountains (laughs). I also love America and not only because I am visiting this country, but because I feel like an American. I am a citizen of the world, but most importantly a citizen of Poland.
Let us return for a moment to film music. You have worked with many big time directors. Could you tell us who did you enjoy working with the most and why?
W.K.: The answer is simple. I enjoyed working the most with the ones who gave me the most freedom. Andrzej Wajda, Kazimierz Kutz, Jane Campion were the ones who would tell me: "Do what you please". Even when I came to Los Angeles to meet up with Coppola. We watched the film and I asked him what he thought about it and he said "I did my part, you are the composer. Do what you want". Zanussi also gives me full freedom, but it is difficult to write for him. In Wajda's and Coppola's films I get inspired by the picture, however Zanussi's films - I would say- are a rather philosophically-intellectual commentaries. Zanussi believes that the music in his films should pose a noble trait; it must represent an additional value. Polanski is a bit different (laughs); He is difficult to work with. Sometimes he would say: "Do what you want", but with some films he was.- there is this really rude saying in Polish which means "a pain in the ass" (laughs)
I heard he would even come to your place when you were composing.
W.K.: Yes (laughs). He would visit me in Katowice, sit and bug me for hours, he would say that he needs a half a second here, a second there etc. He is very precise.
How do you compose film soundtrack? Do you read the script or do you watch the film first?
W.K.: I read the script, but rather out of curiosity. There is no possibility to exactly imagine director's vision. In my youth I used to write a lot of music for the theatre, but it rarely came out well, since you must visualize everything in the theatre. Unfortunately I do not posses such imagination. Besides that, the script of the film changes and in essence it is for the producer and for those who finance the project, etc. That is why I have to watch the film; I am only stimulated by the picture, visually and emotionally. Unless the film contains something functional, as for example in "Pan Tadeusz"; I could have written it before I had actually seen the film since I had known that the actors would dance Polonez (traditional Polish dance). Director Wajda was very thankful, and he stresses it in many of his interviews, that I had written this Polonez before the film.
Have you ever turned down any proposals of any known directors?
W.K.: I turned down the proposition to compose music for "Famme Fatale" directed by Brian de Palma and I regret it very much, because I wanted to write music for this film. Unfortunately, I during that time I was writing music to Polaski's "The Pianist". For a completely different reason I turned down Barbet Schroeder's proposition to write music to the film "Desperate measures". I had been honest with him and said that I did not feel this kind of film genre. This film was not meant for me.
Another time I was turned down. I am talking about "Lord of the Rings". However, I believe it was a fortunate circumstance, otherwise this job would have killed me, and I would not have been able to take such pressure, such load of work. I would not have been up to such challenge, such projects require a whole teem of coworkers, I on the other hand always work alone. It was doomed to failure. And I honestly think it was God's finger.
Do you create music in your mind when inspiration occurs, or do you rather use an instrument and experiment? How long does it take you to create a piece?
W.K.: As far as my own symphonic music is concerned I can compose it for years. I was writing "Exodus" for two years, "The Mass" nine months, and my last piece "Magnificent"-seven, and it took me six months to write "September Symphony".
When I am not completely satisfied with what I write, I stop working and write as long as I am finally content. There is no tragedy about it. Even if the composition had been already planned, it is shifted or the program can be amended by a different piece of music. However, in film I have to stick to the deadlines. The composer is the last one in the line up, and it often happens that the time is scarce. An average of about 6-8 weeks.
What do you listen to privately?
W.K.: To what everyone else does, beautiful, classical music (Mozart, Bach), but also some good jazz (rather from my youth era, which is still wonderful). I have just exchanged the CDs in my car and I had to include "House of Blues" by Miles Davis, "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors, and "The Wall" by Pink Floyd".
There was also a time that I was fascinated by reggae. It resulted in a certain way in "Exodus". This piece was based on a Jewish melody connected to the Purim festival, and I was going to call it that way. Purim is a festival of liberation; it was supposed to manifest solidarity. But then I listened to Bob Marley's "Exodus", which also talks about freedom, liberation, and about the pilgrimage of God's people, so having been motivated by the song I also called my piece "Exodus".
Besides that I also like the good old swing. I listen to different music, except for modern classical music. To be honest I am a bit afraid of being influenced. I prefer to work on my own, not being aware what others are up to. However, when I am driving my car, well, unless I am driving with someone else, I prefer to listen to someone talking on the radio (laughs).
Your dream has always been to write a mass. That is how "Misa Pro Pace" was created. You said then: "I do not remember a bigger joy and more wonderful feeling during any other process of composition". Why was it so important?
W.K.: It was because I was associating with the text as a small boy, 10-12 years old when I was an altar boy. I knew by heart the words of the Latin text but did not understand it. I returned to them after years and when I finally understood them, when I became a mature man and I was ready to write my own music to them. It was fantastic. The "Mass" has been recently performed in Krakow in the Slowacki Theatre.; it was also performed in Vatican, in the Lvov Cathedral and in Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York. I often recall the performance in the Berlin Cathedral commemorating the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. It was incredible, the "Mass" was performed by young people, by the students of the Krakow Music School in Berlin- in a city symbolizing evil and hatred, and I was sitting between a German official and a rabbi. I thought to my self that the prayers were heard.
That is why September 11 was such agony for me. It seemed that fascism had been defeated, communism as well, and suddenly a new threat appeared- Islamism or international terrorism. I was terrified not only because America was wounded, which is very close to me, but the whole world was threatened.
You composed a special symphony after September 11. What is your relation to America?
W.K.: I have already mentioned that without a doubt it is a composition of love. I am brought up by America, by Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, by cowboys, detectives etc. As well as by the American literature. Besides that I am a conscious person. I am aware of the fact that many of the things we have around the world we owe only to the fact that America exists. I love Americans. I like their simplicity, openness, the sometimes childish freshness. I am fascinated by it. And I like practically everything what is American. For example I really like apple or cherry pie, I love it (laughs). I like American architecture, the power of New York or the Loop in Chicago. For me they are like the greatest ancient buildings, I compare Manhattan to the beauty of the Coliseum or St. Peter's Cathedral. I think that New York itself is an architectural phenomenon, like mountains. I love New York. I also like Chicago. Contemptuously it is said that America is "The World Police", but I thank God that there is America, and that the world has such "Police".
How do you remember your first visit to the States?
W.K.: That is a good question. When I first came to New York with my wife, I think it was in 1973, it was night time, we were driving very fast and then we dove into a tunnel. It took as a while to get through it and then suddenly we jumped out of it amongst the skyscrapers. It had been raining so everything was shining. It was an unforgettable experience that will last for a lifetime. The buildings were like mountains, cliffs, the Himalayas. It was magical. New York should not be analyzed, although the farther you go from the Rockefeller Center the worse it gets, but I love all of that. A wonderful atmosphere! There is only one advantage that Chicago has over New York that you can still smoke in the bars (laughs).
We have mentioned that you were born in Lvov. By many it is considered to be a special place. Has this fact in any way influenced your life and your career?
W.K.: Certainly, since Lvov was a city of many cultures; it was home for the Ukrainians, Russians, Jews and Poles. People born there are not prejudice against any religions or nationalities. I learned to be tolerant, to have respect to different cultures and to be opened to other opinions. I believe that "all people are brothers" unlike Shiller said "all people shall be brothers" I think that all that is now present in my music- "Magnificent", "Exodus" represent just that. I think that I am pro American and pro Israel.
Do you ever visit Lvov?
W.K.: No. I have never been to Lvov after the war. It would bee too painful for me.
In spite much success you still live in Katowice. Is it a good place to create music? Industry, noise, traffic.
W.K.: Perfect! Since artistic life is quite poor here. I think if I lived in Krakow or Warsaw, I would always be tempted to go out somewhere. However, Upper Silesia is an area of work. The people treat their work seriously. I think here I have learned to work with others, work hard, and respect it. It is a merit of the protestant influence of this area; work is a prayer. It is a perfect place to create.
Recently Chicago has hosted a concert of your music. What impressions did you bring back with you?
W.K.: In Chicago I was able to breath with such wonderful, authentic Polish atmosphere. I felt as if I had been in the best and most precious Poland. I was not only impressed by the meeting with the highlanders, the welcoming, and the prayers for me and for my wife, but also the atmosphere at the concert. It seems that there is some sort of a myth that a culture on a top level has no chances here. I met a sophisticated and wonderful audience. But most importantly thanks to this trip I was exposed once again to the atmosphere which I was brought up in. It is fantastic that the heritage is maintained among the Polish community.
For me success means happiness and tranquility in my private life. It is also the opportunity to have a profession of a composer and the fact that people want to listen to my music". Has this recipe for success and happiness accompanied you throughout your career?
W.K.: Recipe? I have never tried do influence anything. I believe that if you try to beg someone, give them many calls, try to meet them at all cost, etc., it just won't work. On the contrary, all my successes happened without any agents, sending music scores around the world and without trying to advertise myself. It gives me satisfaction that what I do is really worth anything, since it sort of worked out spontaneously. Of course I have met people, who I owe to, and I will always remember that, but I have never endeavored to be successful.
How would you like to be perceived in the future by next generations?
W.K.: I would like to be remembered as a good human being, someone who brought little happiness, hope and reflection into life and into the world and perhaps a bit of faith by those religious pieces. If I were to die seeing that just one person had converted because of me, I would have been satisfied.
Thank you for the interview.
PLUS Journal / May 2006