17 July 1932
Lviv, L'vivs'ka Oblast', Ukraine
29 December 2013 (aged 81)
Wojciech Kilar (Polish pronunciation: (pronounced phonetically: Voy-cheh Kee-lahr) born 17 July 1932 in Lwów, Poland - died 29 december 2013) was a Polish classical and film music composer.
Wojciech Kilar was one of Poland’s esteemed composers. Born in 1932 in Lwów (now a city in Ukraine, it was part of Poland at the time). 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, married (from April 1966 to November 2007) to Barbara Pomianowska, a pianist. Kilar was 22 years old when he met 18 year old Barbara, his future wife.
Kilar studied at some of Poland's finest music academies, including the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, under the composer and pianist Władysława Markiewiczówna, graduating with top honors in 1955. He continued his post-graduate studies at the State Higher School of Music in Kraków from 1955 to 1958 under composer and pianist Bolesław Woytowicz. In 1957 he participated in the International New Music Summer Course in Darmstadt. Kilar expanded on his musical education in Paris in 1959-60, when a scholarship from the French government allowed him to study composition under Nadia Boulanger.
Wojciech Kilar belonged (together with Boleslaw Szabelski, his student Henryk Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki) to the Polish Avant-garde music movement of the Sixties. 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 Kieslowski, 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 Slonca (1984), and Zycie za Zycie (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 also wrote and published 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).
Having abandoned Avant-garde music technical means almost entirely, he continues 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.
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). 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 received the ASCAP Award 1992 from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Producers in Los Angeles and the prize for best score in a horror film in San Francisco in 1992. 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.
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, The Truman Show, Pan Tadeusz, The Pianist, Zemsta, and We Own the Night.
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 Hall at the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul II. 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 had 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 had 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. 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." Kilar's works have been performed by several major international orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic.
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. In addition, he underwent radiotherapy for six weeks, a process which left 81-year-old Kilar physically exhausted.
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. 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. 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.
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