The Most Beautiful Music in the World

is — excepting certain obvious choices, from Tchaikovsky, or Mahler, or Beethoven — a sequence of three tracks from a CD called “Preisner’s Music”, a compilation of works by the Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, best known as a film composer, for Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy (Red, Blue, and White), and the same director’s earlier Decalogue sequence of ten one-hour films (based on the Ten Commandments). Preisner’s later film scores included The Double Life of Veronique, At Play in the Fields of the Lord (one of my favorites), and Damage, all in the early ’90s.

A non-film score work, “Requiem for My Friend” — a tribute to Kieślowski after his death — was excerpted in this year’s Terrence Malick film The Tree of Life.

The Preisner’s Music CD compiles tracks from his earlier, best-known, film scores*. But it also includes a sequence of three tracks from different sources that nevertheless fit together beautifully, the first from a film score (Quartet in 4 Movements), the second and third from a mysterious, apparently never completed or otherwise-released composition called “Egyptian Opera”. All three involve a soprano — perhaps a boy soprano, I’m not sure — that lend them an ethereal, other-worldly quality. They are called “Dawn”, “Labyrinth”, and “Sky”, in order. Over the 15 years since this CD was released, I have returned to them, these three tracks in particular, again and again, when in a contemplative mood — often, in fact, in my car as I’ve driven to the airport about to leave on another convention trip….

I wish Preisner were better known, and I wish “Egyptian Opera” was a work that had been finished and that I could acquire, though despite repeated Google searches over the years, and Preisner’s own website [which tonight I see has been substantially redesigned since last time I checked], I’ve never been able to learn anything much about it.

Doing a Google search just now, I have discovered the miracle of YouTube: here are those three pieces: Dawn, Labyrinth, and Sky. Listen to them in order.

And here’s the piece used in The Tree of LifeLacrimosa.

*Correction: the “Preisner’s Music” CD is not compilation of previously released tracks, but rather the recording of a concert performance of Preisner’s music, in an underground church in Wieliczka, in Poland. Thus the performances of works, such as “Egyptian Opera”, that had never otherwise been recorded. I should have remembered this.

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