Song for a Filmmaker, Requiem for a Friend

This is not directly film-related (though in a way it is), but it is something I feel I would like to share with you, as it is an experience with music inspired by film that is one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had – if not the most unforgettable. The day is April 1st of this year. My father and I have decided to take a trip to Arrowtown to watch the NZPGA Pro-Am golf tournament. Afterwards my father decides he wants to stay with his brother in nearby Queenstown for a few weeks. I drive him there, drop him off, and begin the drive home. It’s about 7pm at this stage. The sun has set over the peaks of the Remarkables. I begin a long and winding drive down a stretch of road known as ‘The Devil’s Staircase.’ It is notorious for being very long, complex and difficult to navigate. In complete darkness, I drive along it alone for the first time ever. Not wanting to be alone with the silent night, I look through my CDs and discover an album I bought not long before but hadn’t played in full yet. The album is entitled Requiem for My Friend, and was composed and conducted by the great musician Zbigniew Preisner – who is in my eyes the greatest living musician and as important a musician as Beethoven or Mozart.

I first encountered Preisner’s music watching the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski. Kieslowski hired Preisner frequently to compose the score for many of his films, including No End, The Decalogue, The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours trilogy. His most famous piece of music for any of these films would be either this piece from Three Colours: Blue or this piece from The Double Life of Veronique. Both are mindblowing, shattering and amazing. Also, one track from Requiem for My Friend entitled Lacrimosa: Day of Tears can be heard prominently in the soundtrack for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

But back to the story. I played Requiem for My Friend, a 67 minute album, in my car at full volume as I was driving through The Devil’s Staircase, with Lake Wakatipu and the moonlight on the wavy water on one side, and rocky mountains notorious for falling debris on the other. It’s pitch black outside, and if there’s a car heading toward you on the other side of the narrow road, you’re lucky if you see it until it’s just passing you. Preisner’s music did not comfort me at all. Adversely, it terrified me. But my experience with Requiem for My Friend, listening to it at the perfect time during the perfect activity, absolutely shook and broke me. I drove and drove, the album blaring, and my mind in a frenzy. I had this music playing loudly, thoughts of Preisner and Kieslowski haunting my mind and the windy road consistently turning abruptly and worryingly. For 67 minutes this went on and on – the album at full volume playing the whole way through without any pauses. I have never engaged in an activity that has shook me as roughly and unforgettably as this has.

There are moments when the album is loud, and other moments where the music is eerily faint. It was during these faint moments I felt chills run through me. I realized what a genius Preisner is, and how lucky I was to be playing this fantastic album at just the right time. I now regularly listen to it the full way through (though not when I’m driving) and I absolutely admire and treasure it. Though the album is divided into tracks, I highly suggest you listen to it fully in one unbroken sitting for the full effect. Even if orchestral music isn’t your thing, you may find yourself loving it like I did, and though I doubt it will be the defining musical experience of your lifetime, it might at least have an effect. It is slow, brooding, loud, quiet, fast, slow, momentous and mindblowing.

Now, you may be wondering where the title Requiem for My Friend comes from? Well, the album, released in 1998, was written especially for Krzysztof Kieslowski, who had died suddenly and tragically a few years earlier. Kieslowski was Preisner’s filmmaker, one of his idols, and most importantly, his friend. The music is dedicated to his memory, and shines with the radiance both Preisner and Kieslowski had when they were together, creating art and realizing dreams.

You can listen to Requiem for My Friend in its entirety, below on YouTube. Do it at night-time, that’s the only requirement.


Posted on June 25, 2012, in Music and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Amazing article about an amazing composer, your article was supreme in it’s descriptiveness. The music is fantastic as well.

  2. Joe Conneely

    Since my family did this drive when we were touring around the South Island two years ago I have some very clear images already in ,my mind even though I have never heard the composer’s music or the CD! Will now check it out!

    Though nowhere as comparable an experience I remember when I first saw the French film “Un home et une femme” with music by Francis Lai and for the first time in my life went out and bought a film soundtrack LP – still one of my favourites jet for the range of moods it evokes after all these years (and the film wasn’t that bad either given love stories were not my bag at that time!).

    • The Devil’s Staircase is a hell of a drive, but driving it during the daytime is nothing compared to driving through at night. Absolutely terrifying. I will certainly never do it again, at least not for a while.

      I’ve heard of Une Homme est Une Femme but I’ve not seen it. Will note it down.

  3. I have that record in my iTunes. Once I heard “Lacrimosa (2)” on The Tree of Life, I had a cinematic orgasm where the music and image fit perfectly. I think Malick could rival Kubrick in knowing how to use classical music effectively in a film.

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