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Prominent Poles

Wojciech Kilar, composer, film music composer, pianist

Photo of Wojciech Kilar, composer

Born:   July 17, 1932, Lwow, Poland (presently Lviv, Ukraine)

From an interview. Mark G. So: Do you find that the Los Angeles studio players are any better than European ones; do you have a preference? Wojciech Kilar: I'll say that it's just as it is with film in general. [American musicians] give you playing that is exceptional; it's absolute perfection. .. This is how all the great American orchestras are -- Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, New York -- these are the best orchestras in the world. Of course, in Europe, we also have great orchestras, but there the most important thing is emotion; sometimes technical perfection in performance is sacrificed for the sake of expressiveness… Various Polish conductors in listening to the Dracula record were absolutely amazed at the perfection. … All [American musicians] work this way, and all of them with this attitude of "keep smiling, relax, take it easy." Under those conditions, the work is excellent. Everyone's in good spirits, no one comes and says he feels sick, he doesn't feel well, or his head hurts. I always say that the difference between Europe and America is that when two Europeans meet, they immediately start telling each other, "I don't feel well; my head hurts; I got robbed; the weather's awful; my car broke down; my wife's being unfaithful," or some other horrible misfortunes… In America, you may feel as though you'll die in the next minute, but when someone asks you, "how are you doing?" You'll say to him, "I'm doing fine." This is America. .. Don't burden others with your problems, especially before work. That's why it's wonderful working there. And of course, as you know, they get more money for doing it that way. But truly, these bigger paychecks are earned much more pleasantly, not because they're bigger, but because they're earned under a much more pleasant atmosphere. This sounds a bit anti-European, but really everyone knows this to be true. .. Why are 95% of the films shown in Polish movie theaters American films? ..If [European film makers] would make films like Americans do, then [European cinemas] would show them. Film actors in American film are real film actors. In Europe, actors in film are primarily stage actors. …When I'm watching TV with my wife and I see some film come on, I look for who's in it. If I see that Al Pacino is in a given film, then I don't ask myself what the film is about. I don't even look at the title, I see who's in the film. If Merryl Streep is in it, or Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, then we watch that film. It's then that I understand why these actors get so much money. .. And I'll tell you, it's like this: in Europe, you can write god-knows-what; you can write the best music, but if America doesn't notice you, you won't gain any of the attention of which you though you had coming. For instance, I've probably known Roman Polanski for thirty-five years, and only when he made Death and the Maiden did he propose that I score a film of his, and that only after I had scored Bram Stoker's Dracula for [Francis Ford] Coppola…

Early days. He learned piano at the Musical High School in Rzeszow, Poland. Later, 1947-1948, he attended a State Musical Lyceum in Cracow, Poland and during 1948-1950 in Katowice, Poland. Then he studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, graduating in 1955. Years 1959-1960 he spent in Paris, on a fellowship from the French government, where he was studying with Nadia Boulander.

Professional career. He was influenced initially by the European neo-classicism. At the beginning of the 1960’s he created together with Gorecki and Penderecki new style called sonorism. During this period he composed Herbsttag, Riff 62, Générique (1963), Diphtongos (1964) , Springfield Sonnet ,Training 68 and others. His music from the 1970's and 80's is less complicated. Krzesany, Kóscielec, and Orawa sound almost like symphonic poems from the period of Romanticism or post-Romanticism. In Orawa, Kościelec and Grey Mist, Kilar presents the "spiritual essence" of the Tatra Mountains with incomparable suggestiveness; he paints a musical picture of nature in the mountains and of human response to its awesome beauty. In the mid 70’s Kilar started looking for inspiration in the folk tradition and religion. Kilar's works have been performed by several major international orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. For the 100 jubilee of Warsaw Philharmonics Kilar composed a Mass Missa pro pace which was first performed in 2001 and enthusiastically received. For the past 30 years, he has also been composing music for films writing score for more than 130 films.. He has worked on numerous projects with Krzysztof Zanussi, Kazimierz Kutz, Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Paul Grimault, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polański, Jane Campion and others.

Prizes and awards. Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund Award of Boston in 1960, the Jurzykowski Foundation Award of New York in 1983, the State Award Grade I in 1980, the awards of the Minister of Culture in 1967, 1976, and 1975, the prize of the Polish Composers' Union in 1975, and the A.S.C.A.P.Award for his score for Coppola's Dracula in Los Angeles in 1992; Lux ex Silesia prize, 1995; member of Polish Academy of Science 1998; Doctor Honoris Causa of University of Opole, Poland, 1999; awarded the Prize of Great Fundation of Culture, 2001; Preludium chorałowe na orkiestrę smyczkową, 1988;

Main works. Mała uwertura na orkiestrę, 1955; Symfonia nr 1 na smyczki, 1955; Oda Béla Bartók in memoriam, 1956; Symfonia nr 2 Sinfonia Concertante, 1956; Koncert na dwa fortepiany i orkiestrę perkusyjną, 1958; Riff 62, 1962; Générique, 1963;Diphtongos, 1964; Springfield Sonnet, 1965; Training 68, 1968; Upstairs-Downstairs, 1971; Przygrywka i kolęda, 1972; Krzesany, 1974; Bogurodzica, 1975; Kościelec, 1976; Siwa mgła, 1979; Exodus, 1981; Victoria, 1983; Angelus, 1984; Orawa na orkiestrę smyczkową, 1986; Koncert na fortepian i orkiestrę, 1997; Missa pro pace (A. D. 2000), 2001; September Symphony, 2003 - hołd ofiarom 9/11; Sinfonia de motu, 2005;

Films by Wojciech Kilar: The Pianist - an intense camp film about a Jewish pianist who manages to evade capture during WWII, the soundtrack also features the piano music of Frederic Chopin as played by the lead character, The Ninth Gate ,City of Angels - one cue of this, The Truman Show - one of his pieces was used in this, Bram Stoker's Dracula - dark and powerful, with an Eastern European flavor suggesting the Romanian origins of the legendary vampire

J.J.Bokun, USC, Polish Music Center
Interview by Mark G. So in Film Score
Listen to Kilar's music

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