R.I.P. Wojciech Kilar

December 29, 2013 | By


Terrible news that Polish composer Wojciech Kilar passed away today at the age of 81 from a lengthy illness.

Kilar received international attention for his extraordinary score for Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992), a wildly uneven but ambitious attempt to blend art, film history and the wants of a studio into a work that’s far less memorable if shorn of its score.

Kilar’s style was dynamic volume, a heavy use of strings, chorals, and a sometimes manic use of repeated motifs for slow-building pieces which either receded to calm or erupted with incredible orchestral power.

If Poland’s rich music history was relatively unknown to most, Kilar could be credited with brightening its spotlight, certainly through his film music which extended to several of Roman Polanski’s films, including Death and the Maiden (1994) and The Pianist (2002).

Those who snapped up the Dracula CD undoubtedly wanted more Kilar, and the need was met with broader distribution of his work, much of it on the Polonia label. Gathering classical as well as film music (often compilations and suites of music going as far back to the sixties), Kilar’s career certainly enjoyed a boost from the Dracula attention, but he never accepted whatever Hollywood dropped on his door.

His output remained fairly measured, and he clearly accepted offers from directors whose work he respected. It’s hard to imagine anyone telling the composer what they wanted – his style and theme construction were so unique; you picked Kilar because his music matched the film with little adjustment, not because he was a name and a talent that was pliable to commercial needs.

That’s certainly the case with Dracula and his score for Konig der letzten Tage (1993) , which helps viewers adjust to the grime, bawdiness, and manipulative behaviour of its characters. Kilar could compose a knockout, heart-wrenching love them which, though his orchestrations, would waft from impressionable to memorable and outright wrenching. His chorals may have been rooted in folk and religious liturgy, but they bear the muscle, tragedy, and resilience of his Polish heritage.

His action music isn’t scored to match screen action, but impact the implications of what’s about to happen; infer and punctuate the sorrow that lingers after a terrible event; and certainly in Konig, leave viewers with a sense of waste that human souls were brutally lost in the fervor to seek a better physical and spiritual life.

It sounds hyperbolic, but really: when those massive string chords, often driven by beautiful celli, smother the sound spectrum, you do more than pay attention. Kilar’s music has the effect of forcing one to sit and absorb, react, and sometimes remain in a dazed state of remorse, largely because he often wrote themes for troubled characters. There were light assignments in career but it’s the dark emotions and unsettling historical subjects which he captured in extraordinary musical narratives.






Mark R. Hasan, Editor
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