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Comments about the soundtrack for The Ninth Gate (Wojciech Kilar)

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"Corso" theme decoded?
• Posted by: Galanski   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Sunday, May 11, 2014, at 5:59 p.m.
• IP Address:
• Now Playing: "Corso" theme

My initial take on this was much the same as the reviewer's: Isn't this a bit frivolous for a horror movie. In retrospect, I believe Kilar knew exactly what he was doing, and fitted this music quite well to the film; in fact, I dare say its use is brilliant.

Polanski's penchant for dark humor not withstanding (he said he was drawn to doing a film adaptation of El Club Dumas , because the novel had "a great dose of a certain kind of irony and humor"), the character of the theme is to be discovered early on where Dean Corso is talking with "The Girl". When he tells her his name is Corso, she says: "Strange name", to which he replies, "Italian. it means 'I run'". More germane here, it can also mean "travel", which he does as part of his vocation or "contend" which, of course, is what he's doing as he vies with the others to find the final piece of the diabolical puzzle.

Getting back to Kilar's score, it well could be that he was thinking of this as well as another related use for the word, as in "il corso" or "the path". This
can be seem as simultaneously suggesting Corso's physical and metaphysical journeys. But I think it's to look in the wrong place to see this fundamentally humorous, ala Bernstein's Ghosthunters theme.

Rather, I think we get much closer to Kilar's intent if we look for a different inspiration, and that antecedent I believe can be found in the various "Promenade" sections in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition . Similarly to its Pictures counterpart, the "Corso" theme is a connector for all the other music in the score and for all the various tableaux encountered by the protagonist.

Mussorgsky described this recurring theme ("promenade" can mean walk or a place to walk) as "roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend." In The Ninth Gate , the "Corso" theme also can be seen to morph according to the action (for example, as Corso flies to Spain, his theme takes the shape of a bolero).

The music itself is similar in character, as in listening to "Promenade", one can imagine a viewer at the exhibition strolling from one artwork to the next, while the "Corso" theme suggests a walking gait, as well.

Even the instrumentation--"an almost comical trumpet theme"--isn't really all that far removed from Pictures , as at the start of the initial Promenade section opening Ravel's orchestration has the trumpet prominently displayed.

Finally, what's the main focus of Dean Corso's growing unhealthy obsession? It's those sets of pictures , another hint that Kilar had the Mussorgsky masterpiece firmly in mind when he came to composing The Ninth Gate score.

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