The Pianist Composer Wojciech Kilar Dies Aged 81
Polish pianist and composer Wojciech Kilar, who was Bafta-nominated for his score to Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film The Pianist, has died aged 81.
The composer died in his hometown Katowice, southern Poland, following a long illness.
“The power and the message of his music… will stay in my memory forever,” said Jerzy Kornowicz, head of the Association of Polish Composers.
His work as a film composer included Dracula and Polanski’s The Ninth Gate.
Although he cited his first love as writing symphonies and concertos, he won worldwide attention as a film composer, writing scores for more than 130 films and working with celebrity directors such as Jane Campion (Portrait of a Lady) and Francis Ford Coppola.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula won him the best score composer award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1992.
Coppola is understood to have given him a free rein to compose the score for Dracula, and it was reported that when the American director later asked Kilar what it took to write music like his, Kilar cryptically replied: “You need to live in Katowice.”
Born in 1932, he studied piano and composition in Poland, graduating from the State Higher School of Music, in Katowice, with top honours in 1955.
Inspired by the works of Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and fellow countryman Karol Szymanowski – he co-founded the Karol Szymanowski Society in 1977 – his work incorporated Polish folk songs and Catholic church music.
His compositions ranged from the avant-garde Riff62, to soaring choral works such as 1981’s Exodus (used in the trailer for Schindler’s List) and Magnificat (2006).
His fondness for the simple motifs and the resonant use of bass and cello gave his music a romantic feel – and it was little wonder he came to the attention of film-makers.
Kilar once said the three criteria that made him write film music were, in this order: the name of the director, the salary and the script.
In Poland, he was known for working with three influential Polish film directors: Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Krzysztof Zanussi. In 1991, Zanussi made a biographical film about the composer.
He also worked on three separate occasions for fellow Polish native Roman Polanski, beginning with 1994’s Death and the Maiden, starring Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver.
In 2003, he received a Bafta nomination for his work on The Pianist. The film went on to win best actor for Adrien Brody and best director for Polanski at the 2003 Academy Awards.
The Polish State Cinema Committee honoured Kilar with a lifetime achievement award in 1991, while in November 2008 Kilar was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
His wife Barbara, 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.”