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Wojciech Kilar, 1932-2013

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Wojciech KilarComposer Wojciech Kilar died on December 29, 2013 at his home in Katowice, Poland, after a battle with cancer. He was 81.

Kilar was born in Lvov, Ukraine, when it was still part of Poland, in July 1932, but moved to Katowice in Silesia in 1948 with his father, a gynecologist, and his mother, an actress.  Kilar studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice under composer and pianist Władysława Markiewiczówna, at the State Higher School of Music in Kraków under composer and pianist Bolesław Woytowicz, and in Paris with  the legendary Nadia Boulanger in the late 1950s. Upon his return to Poland, Kilar and fellow composers Henryk Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki led an avant-garde music movement in the 1960s, during which time he wrote several acclaimed classical works.

Kilar scored his first film in 1959, and went gone on to write music from some of Poland’s most acclaimed directors, including Krzysztof Kieślowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, Kazimierz Kutz and Andrzej Wajda. He worked on over 100 titles in his home country, including internationally recognized titles such as Bilans Kwartalny (1975), Ziemia Obiecana (1975), Rok Spokojnego Słońca (1984), Życie Za Życie (1991) and Pan Tadeusz (1999), plus several others in France and across other parts of Europe. He made his English-language debut with Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992. His other English language features – Roman Polanski’s trio Death and the Maiden (1994), The Ninth Gate (1999) and The Pianist (2002), and Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady (1996) — were typified by his trademark grinding basses and cellos, deeply romantic themes and minimalist chord progressions.

In addition to his film work, Kilar’s classical output includes such masterworks as Krzesany (1974), a symphonic poem for orchestra, inspired by the “highlander” music of the Tatra mountains region of southern Poland; Exodus (1979), a religious choral piece used in the trailers for Schindler’s List, and others such as Prelude and Christmas Carol (1972), Mount Kościelec 1909 (1976), Angelus (1984), Orawa (1986), and Choralvorspiel (1988). His third, fourth and fifth symphonies – the September Symphony (2003), the Symphony of Motion (2005) and the Advent Symphony (2007), was among his last major completed works.

Kilar’s wife Barbara Pomaniowska, a pianist, died in 2007, after more than 40 years of marriage; He once said he would like to be remembered as a “good human being, someone who brought a little happiness, hope and reflection into life and into the world and perhaps a bit of faith.”

I had the honor of meeting Kilar just once, backstage during his 80th birthday concert, which was held as part of the Krakow Film Music Festival in May 2012. Although I spent just a few minutes with him, I was able to tell him how much his music meant to me, shake his hand, and pose for a photo.

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  1. December 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Something precious has been lost. A Titan of film music has passed. Very nice of you to get the obituary up so quickly. I shall miss him.

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