Although the French composer is credited as the main songwriter on the official soundtrack for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), Alexandre Desplat’s music only accounts for a fraction of the total number of tracks which actually made it into the final edit of the film. The majestic score also includes more than 35 classical, choral or opera pieces selected from the works of Hector Berlioz, Henryk Górecki, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Tavener or Francois Couperin amongst many others.

The Tree of Life (2011)
The Tree of Life (2011)

One of the standout pieces from the soundtrack which was remixed at Terrence Malick’s request is Zbigniew Preisner’s Lacrimosa, a stunning choral piece featuring soprano Elzbieta Towarnicka, the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra and the Varsov Chamber Choir.

Zbigniew Preisner: Lacrimosa

The ‘Lacrimosa’ theme opens the spectacular sequence of cosmic and natural-science footage, Malick’s visual tone poem on the mysteries of the universe and the origins of life, which forms the heart of the film’s narrative. Zbigniew Preisner

The Polish composer’s work is closely associated with the films of friend and fellow countryman Krzysztof Kieślowski for whom he scored the Dekalog, The Double Life of Véronique and the Three Colours trilogy. “Lacrimosa” was initially meant to be part of a new score for an opera/play directed by Kieślowski, but the project did not materialise following the filmmaker’s sudden death in March 1996. “Lacrimosa” was released in 1998 as part of the outstanding Requiem for my Friend, Preisner’s farewell to Kieślowski.

Zbigniew Preisner - Requiem for my friend (1998)
Zbigniew Preisner – Requiem for my friend (1998)

The piano version

In total contrast with the dramatic crescendo of the original version, The Tree of Life also features a beautifully restrained piano version of “Lacrimosa”, performed by Hanan Townshend.

The following year, Hanan Townshend was chosen as the official composer for Terrence Malick’s new film To the Wonder (2012) and is currently working on the director’s upcoming new project Knight of Cups (2014?) currently in post-production.