An Interview with Bartosz Chajdecki by John Mansell
Bartosz Chajdecki started composing at the age of 12, inspired and motivated by Zbigniew Preisner, whose advice helped him to master the art of composition. At sixteen he joined Krakow’s Camelot Dungeon cabaret as accompanying pianist and has since written music for plays such as ‘A Little Requiem for Kantor’, which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998. In 1999, he was accepted into the Krakow Music Academy and is currently a member of the chamber orchestra, ‘Forum Sinfonia’, performing worldwide. Since 2003 Bartosz Chajdecki has been composing for Polish theatres and television.
What musical education did you receive?
I graduated from Krakow’s Academy of Music in Poland. I started my interest in music at the age of 7 with the solo violin as my main instrument. After six years however I switched to piano – mostly because my hearing was having problems with the high pitch of the violin, which became more and more annoying. At the age of 16 I started to play as a pianist in Krakow’s cabaret bars and many other venues. But after about two years I felt that it was not something I really liked or wanted to do, so I took the double bass as my main instrument and concentrated mostly on classical music rather than jazz. When it comes to composition I had the privilege to be led by Zbigniew Preisner in the beginning and then, because of my short co-operation with Universities in England and USA I could also attend some classes with top orchestrators and I believe this to be the most important thing when it comes to my writing.
What instrument or instruments did you concentrate upon when studying?
First it was violin, then piano and in the last few years it was the double bass. Each of these instruments gave me a different view on music. In my opinion violin tends to be the most “contemporary” instrument, and when I was playing it I experimented a lot with non-tonal music and other contemporary styles. Piano is the complete opposite, as it is very “technical” and a 12-tone-scale oriented instrument (which is obvious), which is actually not very good for composers (this is something I’ve heard for the first time from Krzysztof Pendercki and I couldn’t agree more with him). The double bass, on the other hand, gave me the best view on harmony, which becomes the most important thing when you look at the music from the point of view of the double bass player.
You began to compose music from the age of 12 and were helped and advised by Zbigniew Preisner. How did you become involved with the composer and how did he help you?
I met Zbigniew Preisner because my Mother was working for him. She is the best copyist in Poland and I’ve learned as much about writing music and preparing a score from Maestro Preisner as from her. Because not a lot of people know what the job of a copyist is, I think I will explain this better: a copyist is a person who extracts instrumental parts from the score and prepares the music for the orchestra so it can be performed. So, Zbigniew Preisner helped me mostly by giving me some advice about how to think about writing film music and what the most important thing is while doing it. Also how to prepare the score before writing and what the stages of writing film music are. I’m not going to get into the details, but as one can imagine this knowledge is very helpful as he has a great talent when it comes to “feeling” the picture and knowing how to fit the music within it. I got involved with him by accident as I never expected him to help me, and I would never dare to ask him for anything. Because he was working with my Mother he was visiting our place sometimes to supervise copying his scores. During one of his visits he just saw one of my scores lying on the desk and he got interested in it as it seemed to him as a very well written piece. From then on he decided to give me some advice on writing film music. On the other hand there was my Mother with a huge knowledge of the technical part of writing the score in general.
When you begun to become interested in music, was writing for film always in your mind as something that you wanted to do?
I come from a musical family, so being interested in music was kind of natural from my first years. But I really felt that music was going to be an important part of my life not only because we have a long tradition in my family to be a musicians but also because I started to feel this way myself after I’ve heard the music to THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE. I remember that after this experience something woke up deep inside me and I started to feel and experience music on the level that I had never before thought possible. In the beginning I was more interested in contemporary music, but as I wrote before it was connected with my violin education. However after a few years it began to change and finally I decided that film music is the best way to “say” to people this what I have to say. So I concentrated on writing this kind of tonal and illustrative music (as my first attempts and successes are connected with the theatre).
I decided that I wanted to be a film music composer at the age of 16.
Your music for the TV series DAYS OF HONOUR is epic, what size orchestra did you employ for this project?
You will be surprised, but in the first season it is a chamber string orchestra with seven wind instruments only. In the second season it is only eight string instruments with the piano and human voices and in the third series it is also a chamber ensemble. With my sound engineer, Michal Wozniak, we put a lot of efforts to make it sound epic so he did what he could with multiplying instruments, recording the same group of instruments several times etc. He also used a bunch of digital “exciters” which made the recording sound “bigger” and more powerful but on the other hand it made the mix a little bit flat and made it impossible to give it a more “spacious” feel. But we had to sacrifice that in order to get a more powerful sound. We had to do all of this because the budget did not allow me to hire the full scale symphonic orchestra and I felt that this was something I really want to write and most importantly, will work for this picture. What we achieved is epic and powerful, but also with a little bit of a flat mix, but it is obvious that it is impossible to achieve the sound of a big orchestra without being able to hire one, and sacrificing a little bit of quality in the field of mix and “space” is inevitable. But I believe that, despite the conditions, Michal did a really incredible job and I’m very satisfied with it. The other thing is that because we had to cut the budget to the maximum we were recording this soundtrack in a monastery which gave us a nice natural reverb but on the other hand it made it more difficult to add other effects and mix it afterwards.
How much music did you compose for DAYS OF HONOUR, and as it was a long running television series did you ever re-use any cues?
For the first season I wrote about 65 minutes of raw material which I could expand to about four hours of many different versions of the same music (it was also possible because of the way we recorded it – most of the pieces were recorded with one section of instruments at a time). For the second season I wrote about 25 minutes of additional music and for the third season about 50 minutes as it was supposed to be the final season and there was a need for the most epic pieces I could come up with. Right now however there are rumours that the series is going to be continued with two more seasons planned. I’m not sure what you mean by writing about “re-using cues” because it’s not like each season has it’s own musical material. It works like this: that with each season the base of subjects and cues is constantly expanded on according to new events and characters that appear, but we are still using the pieces from the previous seasons.
When you were assigned to score DAYS OF HONOUR, how much time were you given to put together some musical ideas for the series and as it was such a mammoth undertaking (I understand the series ran for two years) were you the only composer involved?
At this time it’s the third year with a new season each year. I was assigned to this job… too late. It’s a funny story itself, as it all happened a little bit by accident. There was a competition for the composer of the music to this series, but I had no idea about it. As far as I’ve heard the producer had even chosen one composer already, but wasn’t sure about this choice. And then, at the final stage of post production my demo CD got to Michal Kwiecinski (the main producer and also the director of the series) and he liked it so much that he decided to re-open the competition so I could enter it. I was given six scenes from the first and second episode and I had to write music for each. I got one week for writing, recording and sending it back. Which I did. As you can imagine I didn’t get much sleep during this time. After a week I sent it to the producer by train and went to sleep not expecting anyone to call me for the next 24 hours or so.
But an hour after receiving this music Michal Kwiecinski called and said that after listening to these new pieces he decided that I’m the best choice for this production and he invited me to collaborate with him on the series. Because it was very late already I had just three weeks to write and deliver all of the music for the first season, and it took me about nine days to write the scores; then there were four days for the copyist to prepare the music for the orchestra and then we needed about one week to record and mix the music. So as you can see this production was as crazy as it can get when it comes to deadlines. But sometimes additional tension works for me very well so I don’t mind it as I usually need a boost and it works well also for the musical ideas I have. Answering the last part of your question: yes, I was the only composer for this series and there was big pressure not to use any other music so I had to come up with a plethora of moods and subjects which would be enough for the whole season.
There is a compact disc available of the score from DAYS OF HONOUR, did you have any involvement in what music cues were utilised on this recording?
I could have been involved, but I chose not to as I decided I may have a different view on the music from an average listener and fan of the series, so I left the choice to Adam Krysinski and my Mother, Urszula Chajdecka as I believed these two people would make the best as well as the most objective choice. The first one, Adam, is a journalist writing about film music so he would choose the most memorable pieces from the point of view of the listener and audience in general and the second one was a copyist so she would choose the best written scores. When I merged their choices I got the set of pieces I was satisfied with and after this my sound engineer and I were working a lot on adjusting pieces and creating a new master of this music so it could have the satisfying quality for the CD.
You began your career by writing music for theatre productions and still work in this area. Is scoring a theatre production very different to scoring films or television, do you find working on a production such as DAYS OF HONOUR is maybe restricting at times because of specific timings, dialogue and sound effects etc?
To be completely honest working on the music for DAYS OF HONOUR was very different from what I was doing before, because it was not like I wrote music separately for each episode. I had to create the number of pieces of music which would be a “base” of subjects and moods for the whole season. So I didn’t even have a chance to watch more than two episodes before writing all of the music. So from the side of musical ideas it wasn’t too restrictive, and from the side of the form of this pieces, however, it was very restrictive. Because in Poland it works such that the composer writes the music and can only supervise its use; afterwards there is another person responsible for actually putting the music into the picture and this person is called a music illustrator. In DAYS OF HONOUR the illustrator was Anna Malarowska who wanted the music to be as flexible as it is possible for her to merge two, three or even four different pieces together, cut the pieces in half or use different parts of the same piece at the same time. The result is that you can have music in the series which sounds almost as written, especially for each scene – but the “technology” of writing the pieces to make it possible to in this way is very restrictive. First of all, it has to be extremely thematic – all of the pieces are made from parts where each has to have the same harmony and amount of measure as the other ones so you could take the strings from one section and merge it with the piano, trumpet or percussion from the other section. This was a huge restriction, but a necessary one. The other big restriction was that in order to be able to switch flawlessly between different moods, all pieces had to be written in one scale which does not hurt when you listen to the music in a TV show but after you listen to all of the pieces on a CD, even if it is not obvious it’s still possible to become tired with the music more quickly even without consciously knowing why it happens so. So while writing this music I had no restrictions when it comes to timings, dialogue and sound effect but on the other hand I was very restricted when it came to the form of the pieces and I couldn’t choose the scale I wanted.
The last one was also annoying because I have to write in the scale I hear music in, so afterwards there was additional work with transposing it and I also sometimes got distracted during recordings as I could hear the difference between my external and internal hearing, and also I had to choose not really the best “somniferous” (I got this word from the dictionary a moment ago;) scale but the one that would be the easiest for the musicians to play as there was very limited time for the recording sessions so I had to think about making it as easy and fast as possible.
Do you ever perform on any of your compositions, and do you also conduct?
Yes. I had my pieces performed live several times and I love this way of showing my music. Right now I’m working on preparing the concert version of a score from DAYS OF HONOUR for the performance during the Festival of Film Music in Krakow which will take place in a huge abandoned factory hall for 8000 people. I’ve also just had two performances of my Mass for orchestra, choir, voices and ethnic instruments. Sometimes I conduct my pieces of music but only when it is absolutely necessary as I don’t like doing that. I get easily distracted when something happens and the performance stops being as close to how I imagine the piece to sound, and then I can get lost. Besides, I believe that one can be really good only in one field and in my case it is, as I hope, writing music. There are a lot of good conductors who are well prepared and will do this job better than me so I don’t see the reason to take this role unless I have to, as the most important thing at the end is the quality of a performance and of the music itself, and not the ego of anyone involved in the production.
What composers would you say have influenced you, firstly film music composers and then classical composers?
In the first place it was, of course, Zbigniew Preisner. But then I started to look more into the Hollywood composers as this is the kind of music that I like the most and I believe that works the best in the movies. The obvious start is John Williams, then Jerry Goldsmith, Elliot Goldenthal, Eric Serra. I love orchestrations of Danny Elfman who is absolutely the best in using orchestra and wind instruments in it. I also love Harry Gregson Williams and Craig Armstrong who can both write extremely powerful music. James Horner is also one of my favourites, especially for the score that is not very typical for him, the OST for SNEAKERS, And one can’t forget about Hans Zimmer but I need to say that I don’t admire his first soundtracks as much as the latest scores. Especially for THE DA VINCI CODE. When it comes to classical composers, it’s Shostakovich in the first place for his incredible power, freshness and ability to mix many different moods in one piece of music. Then it is Brahms for his symphonies and Ein Deutches Requiem. Beethoven for his Fifth and Seven Symphonies as well as absolutely incredible overtures. Also Mozart for his later works. There was a time I also really admired Karl Jenkins for his Adiemus and Ennio Morricone for his music to THE MISSION.
You have worked in Brazil, England and also The United States collaborating with various Theatre groups etc, is there a great deal of difference between working in Brazil, The UK and the United States in comparison to working in Poland?
There is a huge difference. Unfortunately most of the differences have one basic source which is money and budgets, these are much lower in Poland also comparing to Brazil which came as a surprise for me. But I really like working for Polish theatre which I think is on a very high level and is a very well developed part of Polish culture and I hope it’s going to stay this way despite the rough economic times. There are so many little things when it comes to working in different parts of the world that I would need more specific questions in order to tell more about it. It’s also because of cultural differences and attitude towards the composer as a profession and his role in the production.
What do you think is the purpose of music in theatre and also film?
There is only one and obvious reason for the music to be a part of creation – to help support the picture or the performance. The sole purpose of music is to help create emotions and atmosphere. Sometimes by doing that with the support from the director and in conjunction with his way of thinking about the role of music in a particular movie, it can also help to tell a story. Adjust a mood in some scenes. Sometimes you see the scene and there is no obvious emotion or it seems to be a little bit emotionally empty. Then the purpose of music would be to suggest to the audience what kind of emotion the character is experiencing. In theatre, for example, I love moments when there is a character on the stage but we don’t know what is happening inside his soul. It remains silent instead of screaming or laughing. And then the director with the help of composer can use the music to point it. And this is the moment where the music starts to tell a story and becomes an important part in creating the whole experience. In a movie however it’s not like you need to “create” or force music into the picture. When I’m supposed to write music for a film, I always watch it as if there were music before and I just have to find it. Find the music which already exists within the picture I’m watching. Then the whole process as well as the music itself becomes a very natural part of the whole work.
Do you orchestrate all of your own music, or maybe at times use an orchestrator if a deadline is looming, and do you feel that orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
At this time I’m very strict about doing it myself as I think that it’s a big part of the composer’s personality. This is true when it comes to film music, where you usually use minor and major scales because these work the best for showing basic emotions. Besides, in my opinion there are a lot of people in this world who are capable of coming up with a melody – but what makes composers different from these people is the ability to use this melody in the right way.
Controlling the process while achieving the effect they want. That’s why I think that ability to orchestrate is absolutely crucial and that’s why I made it an important part of my work and education. Of course I can’t say that I’m never going to use an orchestrator, but I will do everything not to be forced to do so. For now, I much prefer not to accept the job than to agree on doing it knowing that I will not have time to do it properly and a part of this is orchestrating it myself. I have a feeling that only when doing it this way does the full responsibility for my work lay upon me, and I find this situation to be the best from the point of view of the producers as well as my commitment to the work I need to do.
When working out your musical ideas, do you use piano or maybe synthesiser / computer?
I only use the piano sometimes to check which scale I hear the piece in. Besides that, I never use the piano and absolutely not synthesisers during the writing process as it can destroy the way I’m hearing the music in my head. However, sometimes after finishing the score there is a need to prepare a preview for the director or a producer and then, depending on the kind of sound which is going to be the best for showing my intentions, I perform the piece on the piano or work with Michal, my sound engineer, on an electronic version of the piece.
What is your opinion of the state or quality of film music at this moment in time and do you have any particular favourite composers or composers you would say are original and interesting?
I think that, except a few of the best and most memorable scores, the quality of film music has improved a lot compared to what you could listen to thirty or even twenty years ago. Composers like Zimmer, Horner, Desplat, Elfmann took film music a level higher, so that right now you really need to provide the highest quality music.
As I said before, nowadays a well-written subject or a nice melody is not enough to make you a decent film music composer and in order to compete with the best your music needs to represent a really outstanding quality. And it counts much more right now than being very original because sometimes if you are this way it makes you interesting, but in the long term it becomes apparent that it’s not going to work for most of the movies or you can make music only to one genre of movies or you music works only with the movie that was made in the way so it is going to work with your music. So I can’t say that as for today I find most of the composers I mentioned very original. What is more important is that they are all great in providing a film with music that perfectly fits in it’s mood and atmosphere and really helps with experiencing it. Right now one of the best composers in my opinion is Harry Gregson-Williams, but he was much more original at the beginning of his big career with his music to SPY GAME, with each production getting a little bit less original which doesn’t change the fact that his music is still absolutely awesome and incredible to listen to! On the other hand we have the soundtrack to the latest Sherlock Holmes movie which in my opinion was the most original blockbuster movie soundtrack of last few years and I really liked it very much but it didn’t meet with acceptation from most of the film community and filmmakers. The thing is that the really great film music composers can still do absolutely amazing pieces without being very original but by just having their own kind of style and approach towards writing a piece of film music. The thing is not to force the music to be very original against all odds, because that’s not the point; and by doing that, even if the composer succeeds in being original, it still doesn’t mean that he is going to come up with a good film score – which should be the most important factor for every film music composer.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I’m just finishing my work on a new TV show directed by Maciej Dejczer who is one of the leading polish directors. I’m also preparing scores for three concerts of my music and I’m producing a CD of one of the most important singers in Krakow. I just prepared my propositions for the music for two feature films and if it’s going to work out well it will be produced next year. I’m also negotiating two other contracts for writing music to a movie. When I finish producing this CD, I start working for a theatre and will be preparing two plays with the premiere performances in March and April. This is my schedule till May and then there is TV and theatre. I will also go to England, Germany, France and Hungary to talk about possible co-operation with film directors and producers there. Hopefully it’s going to work out well.
Do you do anything musically away from theatre and film?
Yes, I do. As I mentioned before I just finished working on a Mass. I also wrote a symphonic suite titled ‘Destination Unknown’ based on Jewish style music which had a few performances in Poland and Germany and I’m working on merging it with a dance as that was my first idea but I didn’t manage to organize the production with any dancers or choreographers yet. Right now I’m thinking about writing a piano concerto and I started working on a symphony but because of my other assignments this last enterprise will probably take a long time to finish. However, all of that is or will be written also as a kind of illustrative music, so I’m not planning to go far away from my film interests.
A personal note: Thanks goes to Łukasz Waligorski for his help contacting the composer, without his assistance this interview would not have happened.