Wojciech Kilar – Horn Sonata (1954)

Wojciech Kilar (1933–2013) was like many composers of his generation who came of age under the Soviet control of Eastern Europe. His early compositions were neoclassical works often infused with folk elements. He has stated these pieces were a means of learning his craft. Then in the sixties he branched out into the avant-garde world of huge sound masses and was one of the leading members of the so-called “New Polish School.” Other members of the group were colleagues Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki, and former student Henryk Górecki. All of these composers subsequently embarked on a third style period that synthesized their avant-garde techniques with more traditional elements. For Kilar this meant embracing minimalism. In later years he achieved international fame as a composer of film scores, notably Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film, Dracula.

The Sonata for Horn and Piano is from Kilar’s early period. It evinces the strong influence of Bach and especially Hindemith. It is in three movements: “Allegro,” “Recitativo e arias,” and “Allegretto.” One commentator describes the piece as follows:

References to Bach (Brandenburg Concertos) and Hindemith (the Sonata for French horn and Concerto) can very clearly be heard, for instance in the supple theme opening the first movement (Allegro). It is contrasted with a calmer, singing melody; these motifs develop and “mix” only to return unchanged at the end.

The slow second movement juxtaposes a declamatory melody (recitativo) with a cantilena (arioso), both accompanied by a “stepping” melodic figure in the piano’s bass register. Two presentations of the arioso alternate with three appearances of the recitativo, the second of which introduces the movement’s climax. The finale of Sonata is a lively folkish dance with a three-part structure (comprising an altered repetition of the initial section towards the end, and a slightly contrasting middle episode). However, what draws our attention above all is a virtuosic, wayward ending.

The Contemporary Hornist has until now focused on pieces for three or more players, but this Sonata is an early gem from one of the major figures of the latter twentieth century. Since it may to some extent be undiscovered by horn players, a post about it seems warranted. The linked youtube performance is from a relatively new Naxos CD that features a meaty performance by hornist Tadeusz Tomaszewski. The sheet music is available for a quite reasonable price from sheetmusicplus.com.

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