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Wojciech Kilar

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Wojciech Kilar

Wojciech Kilar
Wojciech Kilar
Born 17 July 1932
Lwów, Second Polish Republic (present-day Lviv, Ukraine)
Died 29 December 2013(2013-12-29) (aged 81)
Katowice, Poland
Occupation Composer
Spouse(s) Barbara Pomianowska
(m. April 1966 – November 2007 – her death)

Wojciech Kilar (Polish: ; 17 July 1932 – 29 December 2013) was a Polish classical and film music composer. His film scores have won many honors including the best score award for the music to Ziemia obiecana / The Promised Land in 1975, followed by the Prix Louis Delluc in 1980 for the music to Le Roi et l'Oiseau / The King and the Mockingbird, and an award at the Cork International Film Festival for the music to From A Far Country (1981) about the life of Pope John Paul II.

One of his greatest successes came with his score to Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula in 1993 which received the ASCAP Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Producers in Los Angeles, nominated also for the Saturn Award for Best Music in a science fiction, fantasy, or horror film in San Francisco in 1993.[1] In 2003, he won the César Award for Best Film Music written for The Pianist, at France's 28th César Awards Ceremony in 2003,[2] for which he also received a BAFTA nomination.[3] The Pianist (soundtrack) featured his "Moving to the Ghetto Oct. 31, 1940" with the other 10 tracks being works by Frédéric Chopin. The music in the movie includes pieces by Beethoven and Bach.


  • Biography 1
    • Education 1.1
    • Music career 1.2
    • Illness and death 1.3
  • Works 2
  • Awards 3
    • List of major awards 3.1
  • Selected film music 4
    • Orchestral 4.1
    • Orchestral, with instrumental and vocal soloists or accompaniment 4.2
    • Choral 4.3
    • Chamber 4.4
    • Piano 4.5
  • Personal quotes 5
  • Political views 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Wojciech Kilar was born on 17 July 1932 in Lwów (then Poland; since 1945 in Ukraine).[4] His father was a gynecologist and his mother was a theater actress. Kilar has spent most of his life since 1948 in the city of Katowice in Southern Poland,[4] married (from April 1966 to November 2007) to Barbara Pomianowska, a pianist.[5] Kilar was 22 years old when he met 18-year-old Barbara, his future wife.[6]


After studying piano under Maria Bilińska-Riegerowa and harmony under Artur Malawski, he moved from Kraków to Katowice in 1948, where he finished his music middle school in the class of Władysława Markiewiczówna, after which he went to the State College of Music (now the Music Academy) in Katowice where he studied piano and composition under Bolesław Woytowicz, graduating with top honours and the award of a diploma in 1955[4][7] He continued his post-graduate studies at the State College of Music (now the Music Academy) in Kraków from 1955 to 1958.[4] In 1957 he took part in the International New Music Summer Course in Darmstadt.[4] In 1959–60 a French government scholarship enabled him to study composition under Nadia Boulanger in Paris.[4]

Music career

Wojciech Kilar, 28 October 2005

Kilar belonged (together with Bolesław Szabelski, his student Henryk Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki) to the Polish Avant-garde music movement of the Sixties.[8] In 1977 Kilar was one of the founding members of the Karol Szymanowski Society, based in the mountain town of Zakopane. Kilar chaired the Katowice chapter of the Association of Polish Composers for many years and from 1979–81 was vice chair of this association's national board. He was also a member of the Repertoire Committee for the "Warsaw Autumn" International Festival of Contemporary Music. In 1991 Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi made a biographical film about the composer titled Wojciech Kilar.

Having received critical success as a classical composer, Kilar scored his first domestic film in 1959, and has since 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 recognised titles such as Bilans Kwartalny (1975), Spirala (1978), Constans (1980), Imperativ (1982), Rok Spokojnego Słońca (1984), and Życie za Życie (1991), plus several others in France and across other parts of Europe. He made his English-language debut with Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Dracula. 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 continued to write and publish purely classical works, which have included a horn sonata, a piece for a wind quintet, several pieces for chamber orchestra and choir, the acclaimed Baltic Canticles, the epic Exodus (famous as the trailer music from Schindler's List), a Concerto for Piano and Orchestra dedicated to Peter Jablonski, and his major work, the September Symphony (2003).[8]

Having abandoned Avant-garde music technical means almost entirely, he continued to employ a simplified musical language, in which sizable masses of sound serve as a backdrop for highlighted melodies. This occurs in those compositions that reference folk music (especially Polish Highlander Gorals folk melodies) and in patriotic and religious pieces.

Illness and death

During the summer of 2013, Kilar manifested signs of poor health, such as fainting and elevated blood pressure, but attributed those symptoms to his heart problems. However, in September he fell while on the street. He was admitted to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, though news of his illness were not publicly released only until after his death. He underwent a successful surgery to remove the tumor, which caused no serious side–effects; Kilar was very optimistic and continued to work after the operation.[9] In addition, he underwent radiotherapy for six weeks, a process which left 81-year-old Kilar physically exhausted.[10][11][12]

In early December 2013, Kilar left the hospital to return to his residence in Katowice. As he did not have any children, he was taken care of by his niece.[12] He was also regularly visited by a Catholic priest and received the Holy Communion twice during the Christmas season. His condition deteriorated on 28 December and on the morning of Sunday, 29 December 2013, Kilar died.[10] Following the cremation of his body, Kilar's funeral was held on 4 January 2014 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Katowice. After the service, his ashes were laid to rest alongside those of his wife.[13]


The vast majority of Wojciech Kilar's work remains undiscovered by the music public at large, despite having written music for well over 100 films, including: Bram Stoker's Dracula, Death and the Maiden, The Portrait of a Lady, The Ninth Gate, Pan Tadeusz, The Pianist, Zemsta, and We Own the Night.

Later in life, Kilar composed symphonic music, chamber works and works for solo instruments. January 2001 saw the world premiere of his Missa pro pace (composed for a full symphony orchestra, mixed choir and a quartet of soloists) at the National Philharmonic in Warsaw. The work was written to commemorate the Warsaw Philharmonic's centennial. In December 2001, it was performed again in the Paul VI Audience Hall in the presence of Pope John Paul II.[14] His 1984 composition Angelus was used in the motion picture City of Angels; Orawa, from 1988, found its use in the Santa Clara Vanguard's 2003 production, "Pathways", as well as Grants Pass High School's 2010 production, "Traffic", which named them the 2010 NWAPA champion.

For most of his life, Kilar's output has been dominated by music for film with a small but steady stream of concert works. Post 2000, he has turned to "music of a singular authorship". Since his 2003 September Symphony, (Symphony No.3), a four-movement full scale symphony written for the composer's friend Antoni Wit, Kilar has returned to absolute music. September Symphony was the first symphony by the composer since 1955's Symphony for Strings (along with another student symphony) and Kilar considered it his first mature symphony (composed at age 71).

Since 2003, Kilar has been steadily producing large scale concert works. His Lament (2003) for unaccompanied mixed choir, his Symphony No.4 Sinfonia de Motu (Symphony of Motion) from 2005 written for large orchestra, choir and soloists, his Magnificat Mass from 2006, Symphony No.5 Advent Symphony from 2007 and another large mass, Te Deum premiered in November 2008.[8] Kilar was quoted as saying that he believed he had discovered the philosopher's stone, and that "there was nothing more beautiful than the solitary sound or concord that lasted eternally, that this was the deepest wisdom, nothing like our tricks with sonata allegros, fugues, and harmonics." [15] Kilar's works have been performed by several major international orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic.


Wojciech Kilar has received numerous awards for his artistic activity and achievements, including prizes from the Lili Boulanger Foundation in Boston (1960), the Minister of Culture and Art (1967, 1975), the Association of Polish Composers (1975), the Katowice province (1971, 1976, 1980), and the city of Katowice (1975, 1992).[16] He has also been awarded the First Class Award of Merit of the Polish Republic (1980), the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Prize in New York City (1984), the Solidarity Independent Trade Union Cultural Committee Arts Award (1989), the Wojciech Korfanty Prize (1995), the "Lux ex Silesia" Prize bestowed by the Archbishop and Metropolitan of Katowice (1995), and the Sonderpreis des Kulturpreis Schlesien des Landes Niedersachsen (1996).

Kilar's film scores have also won him many honors. He received the best score award for the music to Ziemia obiecana / The Promised Land (dir. Andrzej Wajda) at the Festival of Polish Films in Gdansk in 1975. This was followed by the Prix Louis Delluc, which Kilar was awarded in 1980 for the music to an animated film titled Le Roi et l'Oiseau / The King and the Mockingbird, (dir. Paul Grimault). One year later he collected an award at the Cork International Film Festival for the music to Papież Jan Pawel II / Pope John Paul II / Da un paese lontano: Papa Giovanni Paulo II (dir. Krzysztof Zanussi).

Perhaps his greatest success came with his score to Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, for which Kilar shared the 1993 ASCAP Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Producers in Los Angeles (along with 7 other people and 5 other movies),[17] and was also nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Music in a science fiction, fantasy, or horror film in San Francisco in 1993.[1]

In 2003, he won the César Award for Best Music written for a film, for The Pianist, at France's 28th César Awards Ceremony in 2003,[2] for which he also received a BAFTA nomination.[3] On this movie's published soundtrack he composed "Moving to the Ghetto Oct. 31, 1940" (duration: 1 minute 52 seconds), with the other 10 tracks being works by Frédéric Chopin; the music in the actual movie also includes pieces by Beethoven and Bach.

The Polish State Cinema Committee honored Kilar with a lifetime achievement award in 1991, while in 1976 he was decorated with the Cavaliers' Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. In November 2008 Kilar was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

List of major awards

  • The French Lili Boulanger Prize for composition (1960)
  • The Polish Ministry of Culture and Arts Award (1967 and 1976)
  • The Polish Composers Union Award (1975)
  • The French Prix Louis Delluc (1980)
  • The Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Award (1984, USA)
  • The Polish Cultural Foundation Award (2000)
  • Co-Winner (with 7 other people and 5 other movies) of the 1993 ASCAP Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Producers in Los Angeles for his score for the Francis Ford Coppola horror film Bram Stoker's Dracula.[17]
  • Nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Music in a science fiction, fantasy, or horror film, for Bram Stoker's Dracula (San Francisco, 1993)[1]
  • Winner of the César Award for Best Music written for a film, for The Pianist, at France's 28th César Awards Ceremony in 2003


  • Nominated for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, for The Pianist, at Britain's 2003 BAFTA Awards[3]

Selected film music

  • Nikt nie woła (Nobody's calling) (1960)
  • Tarpany (Wild Horses) (1962)
  • Głos z tamtego świata (Voice from beyond) (1962)
  • Milczenie (Silence) (1963)
  • Trzy kroki po ziemi (Three steps on Earth) (1965)
  • Salto (Somersault) (1965)
  • Piekło i niebo (Hell and heaven) (1966)
  • Bicz boży (God's whip) (1967)
  • The Doll (Lalka) (1968)
  • Sol Ziemi Czarnej (1969)
  • Rejs (Cruise) (1970)
  • Perla w Koronie (1971)
  • Bolesław Śmiały (King Boleslaus the Bold) (1972)
  • Opętanie (Obsession) (1973)
  • Zazdrość i Medycyna (1973)
  • Bilans Kwartalny (A Woman's Decision) (1974)
  • Ziemia obiecana (The Promised Land) (1974)
  • Smuga cienia (The shadow line) (1976)
  • Trędowata (1976)
  • Ptaki ptakom (Bords to birds) (1977)
  • Barwy ochronne (Camouflage) (1977)
  • Spirala (Spiral) (1978)
  • Rodzina Połanieckich (TV series) (1978)
  • Le Roi et l'Oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird) (1980)
  • From a Far Country (1981)
  • Przypadek (Blind chance) (1982)
  • Paradigma (1985)
  • Kronika wypadków miłosnych (Chronicle of Amorous Events) (1986)
  • Salsa (1988)
  • Gdzieśkolwiek jest, jesliś jest (Wherever you are, if you are) (1988)
  • Stan posiadania (Inventory) (1989)
  • Napoléon et l'Europe (TV mini-series) (1991)
  • Życie za życie (about Maximilian Kolbe) (1991)
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
  • Dotknięcie ręki (A touch of the hand) (1992)
  • Death and the Maiden (1994)
  • Cwał (In Full Gallop) (1995)
  • The Portrait of a Lady (1996)
  • Deceptive Charm (1996)
  • Brat naszego Boga (Our God's brother) (1997)
  • The Truman Show (1998) (parts from Requiem Father Kolbe)
  • The Ninth Gate (1999)
  • Pan Tadeusz (1999)
  • Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease (2000)
  • Le Pianiste (2002)
  • Zemsta (The Revenge) (2002)
  • We Own the Night (2007)
  • Il Sole Nero (2007)


  • Small Overture (1955), for the Youth Festival, 1955
  • Symphony for Strings (Symphony No. 1, 1955)
  • Ode Béla Bartók in memoriam, for violin, brass, and percussion (1956)
  • Riff 62 (1962)
  • Generique (1963)
  • Springfield Sonnet (1965)
  • Krzesany, for orchestra (1974)
  • Kościelec 1909, for orchestra (1976)
  • Orawa, for string orchestra (1988)
  • Choralvorspiel (Choral Prelude), for string orchestra, (1988)
  • Requiem Father Kolbe, for symphony orchestra (1994)
  • Symphony No. 3 "September Symphony" for orchestra (2003)
  • Uwertura uroczysta [Solemn Overture] for orchestra (2010)

Orchestral, with instrumental and vocal soloists or accompaniment

  • Symphony Concertante, for piano and orchestra (Symphony No. 2, 1956)
  • Prelude and Christmas Carol, for four oboes and string orchestra (1972)
  • Bogurodzica, for mixed choir and orchestra (1975)
  • Siwa mgła, for baritone and orchestra (1979)
  • Exodus, for mixed choir and orchestra (1981)
  • Victoria, for mixed choir and orchestra (1983)
  • Angelus, for symphony orchestra, soprano, and mixed choir (1984)
  • Piano Concerto No.1 (1996)
  • Missa Pro Pace, for orchestra, chorus, and soloists (2000)
  • Symphony No. 4 "Sinfonia de Motu" (Symphony of Motion), for orchestra, chorus, and soloists (2005)
  • Magnificat, for orchestra, chorus, and soloists (2007)
  • Symphony No. 5 "Advent Symphony", for orchestra, chorus, and soloists (2007)
  • Te Deum, for orchestra, chorus, and soloists (2008)
  • Veni Creator, for mixed chorus and strings (2008)
  • Piano Concerto No.2 (2011)


  • Lament, for mixed unaccompanied choir (2003)
  • Paschalis Hymn for chorus (2008)


  • Flute Sonatina (1951)
  • Woodwind Quintet (1952)
  • Horn Sonata (1954)
  • Training 68, for clarinet, trombone, and piano (1968)


Numerous solo piano pieces

Personal quotes

  • Every graduate... at the Gershwin, Paul McCartney, was born in Poland...[18]
  • Highlander's music is an inexhaustible source of muse. My most popular pieces have been played for more than 30 years; and I owe it to highlander's music (Gorals music).
  • I was forced to learn music (laughs). My father was a doctor, mother an actress, so my house was full of artistic atmosphere.
  • I turned down the proposition to compose music for Femme Fatale directed by Brian De Palma and I regret it very much, because I wanted to write music for this film.
  • I would like to be remembered as a good human being, someone who brought little happiness, hope and reflection into life and into the world and perhaps a bit of faith by those religious pieces. If I were to die seeing that just one person had converted because of me, I would have been satisfied.[19]

Political views

During the 2007 election campaign for the National Assembly of the Republic of Poland Wojciech Kilar made a number of statements of his support of the Law and Justice party.[20]


  1. ^ a b c "Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA - Awards for 1993".  
  2. ^ a b c "PALMARES 2003 - 28 TH CESAR AWARD CEREMONY".  
  3. ^ a b c "Bafta Film Awards - Film: Anthony Asquith Award for Original Film Music in 2003".  
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Wojciech Kilar".  
  5. ^ Prywatny sukces Kilara – Muzyka –
  6. ^ Basia prowadziła mnie do Boga jak Maryja
  7. ^ "Wojciech Kilar Biography Page 2". Wojciech Kilar Official Website. Retrieved January 2, 2014. While in Kraków he studied piano with Maria Bilińska-Riegerowa and took private lessons in harmony with Artur Malawski.In 1948 he went to Katowice. There he finished his music middle school in Władysława Markiewiczówna’s class and the State Higher School of Music in the class of Bolesław Woytowicz (piano and composition). 
  8. ^ a b c Wojciech Kilar – Pełna baza wiedzy o muzyce – magazyn –
  9. ^ Tomczuk, Jacek (17 January 2014). "Wojciech Kilar i jego muzyka życia".  
  10. ^ a b "Od pół roku Kilar zmagał się z nowotworem". Tygodnik Idziemy. 29 December 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "Joanna Wnuk-Nazarowa o Wojciechu Kilarze: Kochało go Hollywood, pozostał w Katowicach". 29 December 2013. 
  12. ^ a b Watoła, Judyta (29 December 2013). "Wojciech Kilar nie żyje. Zmarł w wieku 81 lat". 
  13. ^ "Oscar-winning composer Wojciech Kilar laid to rest in state funeral".  
  14. ^ "Peace concert".  
  15. ^ Pmrc Sites: Wojciech Kilar
  16. ^ Polish culture
  17. ^ a b "ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (1993)". IMDb. Retrieved January 2, 2014. ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards; Date: April 21, 1993 Location: USA; Awards for 1993 - ASCAP Award ... Top Box Office Films - WINNERS: Aladdin: Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Tim Rice
    Dracula: Wojciech Kilar
    The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Graeme Revell
    Patriot Games: James Horner
    Sister Act: Marc Shaiman
  18. ^ Wladyslaw Szpilman – Pianist and Composer of Popular Music
  19. ^ Music: Speaking your own language | Music
  20. ^ Kilar szefem honorowego komitetu PiS

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