Ptaki, ptakom...

Wojciech Kilar

" Everything about this theme represents the recognizable, expressive thematic power of Kilar at his best. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the music as heard in the movie

Ptaki, ptakom... (Birds to Birds, 1976) is a war film directed by Pawel Komorowski. It deals with the Silesia Polish campaign, in which the resistance, including boy and girl scouts playing a unique role, fought the invaders in September of 1939. Wojciech Kilar, who lived most of his life in Katowice, capital of Silesia, was appropriately chosen to write the music to the propaganda film.

The opening credits start with a few seconds short ominous brass and string statement moving into a lyrical march with loveable whistling, which ends abruptly after barely 20 seconds, welcoming the return of a more thunderous statement of what was introduced in the first few seconds.The brilliant march foreshadows the role of the boys and girl scouts, which explains why it sounds lyrical and slightly playful, childish even, but it does not return elsewhere in the film.

Its credits reveal the music Kilar composed was performed by the Łódź Philharmonic orchestra and the Silesian mining orchestra Walent Wavel, responsible for the performances of marches in the score. Even though Kilar recorded, I think, six of his scores with the Łódź orchestra, it is strange that he didn't record it with his regularly employed, and relevant given the subject of this film, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice.

In his career he wrote many attractive waltzes, minimal and expressive themes and a wide variety of marches. The vast majority of marches, I would be running out of space to mention them all, the composer has written are unusually good. Largely, the use of them in Ptaki, ptakom is surprisingly standard, neglecting the opening and a disjointing crossover with a motif I will discuss in the next paragraph. Despite them being less interesting marches, they are well oiled necessities for the film. In the beginning, a 3 minute long march accompanies the parading invaders, inter-cut with scenery of the resistance. Like much of the music, they provide illustrations of the raging battle in between the actual fighting sequences, often short in length, while the intensity of the rattling drums varies.

A secondary, minimal theme is used for the prisoners being transported on a truck, who provide the narrative in their recollection of memories of defending Silesia. For this, ominous low-key orchestral reverberation sounds produce an eeriness alongside a stark harpsichord motif, similar, yet different to the harpsichord in scores such as Życie rodzinne (1970). It is one of the most admirable minimal themes by Kilar, which is very serviceable to underscore the prisoners in fear of their execution. The level of disjoint and directness the motif produces makes for a painstakingly strong musical idea that requires little time to become effective. Unexpectedly, as the prisoners arrive at the end of their journey, the motif becomes infuriating as it mingles with a disconcerting march twice.

Another musical idea is heard as the resistance makes a tragic discovery (29:10 into the film), underpinned by layers of sustained dissonant string performances that gradually become more intense. The strong dramatic sense of the cue only makes one brief appearance later in the film.

By now, the events regarding the hours long defense of the parachute tower in Katowice by the boy and girl scouts have been rectified by historians, revealing it was a whole lot shorter. Regardless, he composers provides them with a heart and soul through the use of unforgettable theme. It is introduced at 39:00 – 42:28, as a girl scout runs back towards the tower, in the midst of the beginning of the fight over this strategic point, getting herself killed. It is an instantly recognizable minimal theme, featuring typical orchestral colours as percussive pounds, seguing into evocative airy strings and carefully picked dramatic accents from drums and piano. It undergoes various renditions, never as fully developed, but each time it is just as breathtaking. Most of its renditions feature just the airy string section, which give a significant weight to the events, while also addressing the symbolic use of birds flying around the tower. Everything about this theme represents the recognizable, expressive thematic power of Kilar at his best.

Ptaki, ptakom... is an overwhelmingly strong experience. It demonstrates Kilar' abilities to write a score full of expressive, disjointed and a mixture of great and standard, but aptly, march music, which all in all makes this one of the masterpieces the composer has written. The music remains unreleased.

(written 01-02-2020)
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- (music as heard in the movie 1976)