Wojciech Kilar: Award-winning writer of film score for 'The Pianist' who had a gift for creating visual images in sound


Wojciech Kilar was a prolific classical composer who was best known outside his native Poland for his work on scores for more than 130 films, including Roman Polanski's The Pianist (2002) and Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).

Kilar was born in Lviv, Poland (now western Ukraine) in 1932. His father, a doctor, and mother, an actress, encouraged the reluctant young musician to play the piano. In 1944, he and his family were among the many Poles who were deported from their home towns during the Soviet occupation. As a teenager in Rzeszow, south-eastern Poland, he met Professor Kazimierz Mirski, who introduced him to the music of Ravel, Debussy and Szymanowski. In these composers Kilar at last found works that he could enjoy playing.

Following the war, Kilar continued his studies and graduated with top honours from the State Music Academy in Katowice, in 1955. Five years later he won his first award, the Lili Boulanger prize for composition, and went on to study under Nadia Boulanger in Paris.

The period of the early Sixties, following the death of Stalin and the resulting Polish "cultural thaw", had a liberating effect on musical culture, allowing avant-garde composition to break free from more traditional styles. Kilar was soon heralded as one of the three leading neoclassicist composers in Poland, alongside the giants Krzysztof Penderecki, who outlives him, and Henryk Gorecki, who died in 2010.

Kilar believed that his entree into the world of film music came as a result of a performance of his innovative work Riff 62 by the New York Philharmonic in 1963 and a prominent critic's response to it. The composer recalled: "Harold Schonberg ... wrote of this work that one 'sees' it on hearing it; that it's like musical op art. This I think in part is because I've been greatly influenced by the Impressionists – Debussy and Ravel – whose music is also of that type that is really seen." He suggested that film-makers took an interest in him "because my music seems to correlate with pictures and images, and of the sort conducive to the development of mental images". A string of film score credits followed, at first in his native country and later in French and Hollywood productions.

By the mid-1970s Kilar had returned to traditional sources of inspiration for his orchestral compositions, in religious music and folklore. "At a certain moment," he later commented, "I realised that all possibilities for producing shock reactions by means of sound resources, the search for new sound sources – all had been exhausted." His 1974 piece, a symphonic poem titled Krzesany ("Sparking Dance"), was one of the first of this new phase. Influenced by the music from the Tatra range of southern Poland, it "let fresh mountain air into the musty rooms of Polish contemporary music", according to the conductor Jan Krenz.

Religion had a powerful influence throughout Kilar's life. He said: "I 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 by those religious pieces." He also noted that "if I were to die seeing that just one person had converted because of me, I would have been satisfied".

For Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Kilar recalled asking Coppola what he expected from the film music. The director replied: "I did my part. You are the composer. Do what you want." The resulting score won Kilar the Best Score Composer award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

He was invited by the director Jane Campion to provide music for Portrait of a Lady (1996), an adaptation of the novel by Henry James, starring Nicole Kidman and Viggo Mortensen. Later, the composer spoke of his meeting with the director and first impressions. "I enjoyed the film wildly from the start", he recalled, adding that he had swiftly arrived at "... the first few notes of this very important motif I had by the time I was just halfway through the film".

Kilar was at his peak with the musical score for The Pianist (2002), the biographical war drama directed by Roman Polanski. He had previously worked with Polanski on The Ninth Gate (1999), starring Johnny Depp and Frank Langella, and Death and the Maiden (1994) with Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. In The Pianist, as with all his work for film, his composition complements the script and direction, enhancing the audience's experience. The movie received a Bafta award for Best Film the following year, and was nominated for Best Music, as well as gaining a César Award for Best Music.

Jerzy Kornowicz, head of the Association of Polish Composers, said: "The power and the message of his music, as well as the noble character of Wojciech Kilar as a person, will stay in my memory for ever."

The director Kazimierz Kutz said that working with Kilar on films was "pure pleasure". Of their collaboration he said: "He would come, see my movie and a month later he would bring extremely good music that was always beyond my expectations."

Wojciech Kilar, composer: born Lviv, Poland 17 July 1932; married 1966 Barbara Pomianowska (died 2007); died Katowice, Poland 29 December 2013.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice