Alphabet

  • A

    • Alcohol For many years the composer was an enthusiast of alcoholic beverages. This “ludic” side of Kilar’s personality has been warmly remembered by Kazimierz Kutz: “He was a reveller, a merry mead drinker; few people enjoyed life like he did! He had great class, he was always endearing, had this delicate way with women, had a great sense of humour, was witty, was a pure joy.” Later in his life the composer, who had become a teetotaller, would add: “I snacked a lot. Eight helpings of collops with dumplings.”
  • B

    • Bovary, Emma The protagonist of the great novel by Gustav Flaubert, who was one of Kilar’s favourite authors (“If I were to mention literary moments that accompany me all the time, they would have to include the ending of Madame Bovary [...].”). A literature lover, the composer was also very fond of poetry. As the poets closest to him, he would mention Rainer Maria Rilke and Arthur Rimbaud; he also admired poems by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz.
  • C

    • Cats Barbara and Wojciech Kilar loved animals, especially cats. The composer used to carry pictures of his pets – Rudy, Bambik and Hilda – in his wallet. As his friend the director Krzysztof Zanussi said of the composer during his lifetime, “[Kilar] has a lot of cat-like qualities: he lets people adore him, but at the same time he is very introverted, he is a man who accepts tributes but doesn’t really return them.” When talking to a journalist from the magazine "Gość Niedzielny" about passing away, the composer said: “[...] I look forward to meeting our cats. The black one, Bambik, painted by Jerzy Duda-Gracz, our beloved devil disguised as a cat. And another one, which was with us for 10 years – an angel. We called her Pupcia or Hilda, because she reminded us of a portly Silesian housewife. Though I realize all the time that heaven will be different from what we imagine.”
    • Communist system The composer did not become openly involved in activities of the political opposition in the People’s Republic of Poland. However, writing Ode in Memoriam Béla Bartók he protested the Soviet invasion of Hungary and he did not object when his Exodus was interpreted as an image of Poles crossing the Red Sea. When an announcement was made during the martial-law period that Kilar had agreed to join the government's State Council of National Salvation (PRON), the composer immediately demanded that a disclaimer be published by the Party newspaper "Trybuna Ludu". However, years later he spoke about supporters of the system with his characteristic detachment: “I have nothing against people who were PRON members, may God be with them. To each his own, to put it simply.”
    • Corrida Wojciech Kilar was a man of Franciscan sensibility, a great lover of animals. However, in an interview for Programme 2 of the Polish Radio, he said: “It’s beyond my comprehension today, but [...] I did use to like bullfighting a lot. Usually these shows take place once a week, on Sunday, but there is a time of the year when there are corridas every day for three weeks. And I went to Madrid for these three weeks. When I came back, I immediately wrote the fast movement of Krzesany. Clearly, some of that blood had to go into this dance.”
  • D

    • Dodecaphony The way of arranging notes in a musical piece in accordance with a pattern (twelve-tone series) to which their pitches are subordinated. The technique, introduced by Arnold Schönberg, found its way into the oeuvre of many composers, becoming one of the most important phenomena in 20th-century music, including Polish music. “People say,” Kilar noted, “that dodecaphony is not a style but a technique. [...] Yet there is a dodecaphonic melodic style [...] marked with dissonant intervals being added to consonant ones, and with a great deal of variability. I would call it an Art Nouveau style, in fact.” This style and technique left a strong mark on Kilar’s music from the “Sturm und Drang” period: from Ode in Memoriam Béla Bartók to Training 68.
  • E

    • Euphony Gentle, pleasing to the ear – that is to say, euphonic – sound is an important element of the “Kilar style” in its late version (from the moment around 1971 when the composer began to abandon his avant-garde position). In Kilar’s music, euphony is usually associated with a mood of religious contemplation. It wins the composer admirers, but some listeners are offended by its alleged sentimentality and lack of finesse. An example of sophisticated euphony can be found in the Choral Prelude for string orchestra, which Kilar composed in 1988.
  • F

    • Fallaci, Oriana The composer was an attentive reader of articles and books by the Italian journalist, famous for her conservative views, brilliant mind, courage and sharp pen. He said in an interview: “Her books have [...] pride of place in my home. [...] I remember the huge impression the news of Fallaci’s death made on me. My first impulse was to go to a church in Warsaw, close to my hotel, to offer a mass for the peace of her soul. It so happened that there was a free mass intention on that day, but I hesitated, because I knew about her attitude to faith and the Church. I shared my doubts with a priest. He looked at me and said: ‘She was a prophet...’”.
    • France

      Kilar maintained various and strong links with the country and especially its capital. It was in Paris that he studied composition with the renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger and enjoyed a rich social life. Later he would often visit Paris with his wife, Barbara. When she died, he decided never to return to the city, so dear to both of them. “In Paris,” he said, “transience is pleasant, although this sounds paradoxical, for is it easy to let go of the Parisian sky, the Seine, spring, chestnuts, this unique Parisian grey-blue? And yet there is no sign of sorrow at parting.”

      For form’s sake, it is worth listing Kilar’s “French choices”: Favourite prose writer: Gustave Flaubert; favourite poet: Artur Rimbaud; beloved composers: Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Favourite Parisian hotel: the Raphaël, 17 Avenue Kléber (room 609); prefered restaurant: Chez André, 12 Rue Marbeuf.

  • G

    • Golden ratio A division of a section into two parts, with the ratio of the shorter segment to longer  being the same as the ratio of the longer to the  full section. The golden ratio often occurs in nature and sometimes also in architecture, painting and music. In Kilar’s works it defines ratios between the lengths of various episodes and “controls” the emergence of important musical ideas (lyrical melodies in the first movement of September Symphony and the finale of Symphony No. 5 occur precisely at the golden-ratio point), among other functions. As the composer acknowledged, “I have my ‘flexible’ structural pattern [one that could be used in various works]. I still keep a piece of paper on which I drew it. The core of this pattern is the ‘golden’ division of a section.”
    • Gregorian chant Traditional monophonic chant characteristic of the Roman liturgy, one source of Western musical tradition. Kilar said once that “music ended in 9th or 10th century, when Gregorian chant was no longer written.” He drew on this musical ideal in many works, and obviously in the mostly religious ones, especially his monumental Missa pro pace.
  • H

    • Hollywood In 1992, the director Francis Ford Coppola became fascinated with Kilar’s soundtrack to Andrzej Wajda’s The Promised Land and asked the composer to write music for his film Bram Stokers Dracula (Kilar considered Coppola’s The Godfather the greatest film in cinema history). This is how the composer of Orawa began working for the U.S. film industry and directors including Roman Polański (Death and the Maiden, The Ninth Gate, The Pianist) and Jane Campion (The Portrait of a Lady). Engrossed in composing concert works, Kilar rejected an offer to compose the soundtrack for Peter Jackson’s blockbuster The Lord of the Rings.
  • I

    • Introversion

      The composer was notably discreet and reticent, and liked to stay on the sidelines. The great Polish actor and director Gustaw Holoubek remembered him as “very polite, focused, tactful, not pushy at all”. This side of Kilar’s personality may be reflected in such “introverted” pieces as the Choral Prelude.

  • J

    • Jasna Góra During the martial-law period in Poland, Kilar spent time in the cloister  of the Pauline Monastery at Jasna Góra, which is closed to the laity. It was here that he began his turn towards religion; it was here that the idea for the “rosary” Angelus came to him. “At Jasna Góra,” the composer recalled, “I found a free Poland, I found myself in a community. In addition, my work became linked to this place.” Kilar would later return many times to the Pauline Fathers at Jasna Góra; it was in their monastery that he used to celebrate his birthdays.
  • L

    • Latin One important feature of Kilar’s intellect was his extraordinary linguistic expertise. The composer knew German, French and English and, according to Krzysztof Zanussi, was “greatly fond of [...] linguistic jokes and puns”. Latin, which he remembered from secondary school (the Nadworski Secondary School in Kraków), played a bigger role in Kilar’s life than in the lives of many ardent Catholics: it became a medium for most of his religious works. These include settings of canonical texts including the ordinarium missae (in Missa), the hymns Te Deum and Veni Creator, excerpts from the Bible in St. Jerome’s Latin version (the canticle Magnificat, individual verses from Exodus and the Book of Revelation), and finally an excerpt from King Jan III Sobieski’s letter to Pope Innocent XI (in Victoria).
    • Lviv Wojciech Kilar’s home town. This is where he was born (in a house in Leon Sapieha Street), experienced his first musical thrills (Albert Ketèlbey’s tone poem In a Persian Market) and had his first encounter with cinema. It was here that for the first time he heard serious conversations about art – they were between his mother and father (the actress Neonilla Kilar-Krzywiecka, née Batik, and the acclaimed gynecologist Jan Franciszek Kilar). It was also in Lviv that he survived the Soviet and German occupations. The Kilars left the city in 1944; the composer would never return to it.
  • M

    • Mercedes Kilar was passionate about fast cars. He was particularly fond of Mercedes models. Towards the end of his life he owned two: a smaller one for short trips and a bigger one for longer journeys. The speeds at which he drove between Katowice and Warsaw are the stuff of legend. The license plate of the bigger car (S1 BASIA) bore the name of his beloved wife.
  • N

    • Neoclassicism A popular compositional approach in 20-century music, early examples of which were found in the music of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. Generally, its idea was to combine elements of earlier music (Baroque, classicism) and modern sound techniques. Great advocates of neoclassicism included Nadia Boulanger, the French composer and teacher, with whom Kilar studied composition in 1959 and 1960. Kilar’s neoclassical period had begun earlier, however, and ended with the composition of Ode in Memoriam Béla Bartók (1957). Yet distant echoes of neoclassicism can still be found in some of Kilar’s later motoric pieces, for example in Orawa and the finale of the Piano Concerto.
  • P

    • Pope John Paul II For the deeply religious composer, the high point in his life was a performance of Missa Pro Pace in the presence of John Paul II (at the Vatican, 7 December 2001). “That the mass could be performed in the Vatican,” he later said, “was a miracle, undoubtedly the most wonderful moment in my and my wife’s life. [...] We felt a touch of holiness. It seemed to me that the chorus, the soloists and the orchestra rose above the earth.”
  • Q

    • Qui tollis peccata mundi “Who takes away the sins of the world.” An excerpt from the text of the ordinarium missae (Gloria and Agnus Dei), highlighted in Kilar’s Missa Pro Pace. Its musical prominence conveys well the main feature of the composer’s piety: profound reflection and a lack of triumphalism – not uncommon among believers, after all.
  • R

    • Rosary This is what Kilar said about one trait of his religiosity: “The rosary did not exist in my life till my time at Jasna Góra. When I was reciting it during the martial-law period, standing in a crowd before the miraculous image of the Madonna, it seemed the best prayer for my homeland to me. From that moment, it accompanied me everywhere. These days I carry several rosaries in the pockets of my jackets just in case (my favourite is the one bought in the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris; I always have it with me when I travel by plane). I recite it every day – it’s a short story of salvation.” The rosary prayer became the basis of one of the best known Kilar compositions: the cantata Angelus for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra, written in 1984.
  • S

    • Silesia When the film director Jane Campion asked Kilar “What do you have to do to write such music?”, he apparently replied without hesitation: “You have to live in Katowice.” The composer spent most of his life in Silesia: it was there that he honed his creative skills, it was there that he met his future wife, Barbara, it was also there, in a house at Kościuszki Street 165, that he wrote successive pieces (when he was travelling, if he was able to write at all, he could write only film music). For many years, he supported the local Ruch Chorzów football club. Kilar’s Solemn Overture was composed to celebrate the 145th anniversary of the granting of city rights to Katowice, and was meant as the composer’s homage to the regional capital of Silesia.
    • Sonorism A movement in 20th-century music marked by an emphasis on the role of tone colour and changes in the density of tonal texture. The “liberation” of tone colour was accompanied by experiments involving unconventional way of playing (for example, blowing in the separate mouthpiece of a wind instrument or playing a string instrument below the bridge). Sonorism became the main tendency in the so-called Polish school of composition of the 1960s (including works by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Krzysztof Penderecki and Witold Szalonek). “Thoroughbred” sonorists included Kilar from 1962 to 1971. His brilliant sonoristic compositions from that period (Riff 62, Générique, Diphtongos) thrilled Warsaw Autumn festival audiences.
  • T

    • Tatra Mountains Kilar’s fascination with the Tatra Mountains (the “miniature Alps”) was manifested in many works, including the famous mountain tetralogy of Krzesany, Kościelec 1909, Hoary Fog and Orawa. The composer was not a dedicated mountaineer (unlike Mieczysław Karłowicz at the turn of the 20th century) and did not, in fact, take up mountaineering until he composed Krzesany. His first hikes took him up Kościelec and Czerwone Wierchy, then to the Szpiglasowa and Mięguszowiecka Passes (“There [...] I felt a slight pang of terror, because I had to step over a precipice [...]”). From that moment, the composer regarded himself as “smitten with the Tatras”.
    • Twardowski, Jan Kilar appreciated Father Twardowski’s poetry for the simplicity and informality of its language; he must have also felt an affinity with its religious themes, kind-hearted humour and lack of intellectual pretensions – qualities that attract so-called “ordinary” readers, often discouraging sophisticated connoisseurs. Given its similar qualities, Kilar’s music could be regarded as a musical equivalent of Twardowski’s poetry. We could even risk a comparison: “Kilar – the Father Twardowski of Polish music”.
  • V

    • Variante I, II, III Titles of the third, fourth and fifth parts of Kilar’s Springfield Sonnet, filled with variant transformations of ideas from the work's second part (Sogetto). The idea of relative variability of musical material was tackled many times by the composer in his works. At once repetitive and variant shaping of a work, which became one characteristic of his style, brings with it some aesthetic cost (simplification, monotony), though it is also profitable through the extraordinarily intense expressive impact of slight, simple changes. In this respect Kilar reached the level of a virtuoso.
  • W

    • Wife

      Barbara Kilar née Pomianowska (1936–2007), the composer’s beloved life companion, muse, first listener and severe critic. They met at music academy (Kilar called this encounter a “strike of thunder”) and became inseparable. The composer credited his wife’s influence with kindling religious fervour in him (“My wife – like Mary – led me to God”). When she died, Kilar dedicated three compositions to her memory: Veni Creator, Te Deum and Sonnets to Laura.

    • Woytowicz, Bolesław An eminent Polish, composer, pianist and teacher, student of Nadia Boulanger, known for his vast knowledge, sophisticated taste, wit and courage, for which he became famous during the German occupation, when he organized musical life in Warsaw in his cafe. Kilar studied composition with Woytowicz from 1948 to 1955; for some time he even lived at the professor’s house and regarded the “complete education” he got from him as a very valuable experience. Today, Woytowicz’s works are almost completely – though in  many cases unjustly – forgotten.
  • Y

    • Yardley A humble man, the composer was nevertheless known for his weakness for some luxuries: expensive hotels, fast cars and designer clothes (for example, Lacroix ties). His favourite cologne was by Yardley of London; Kilar was already indulging himself with this luxury in the 1960s. Legend has it that the director Antoni Bohdziewicz, a well-known wit and dandy, apparently scenting Yardley’s characteristic lavender fragrance on Kilar, sniffed theatrically and asked: “Przemysławka?” (the poor man’s cologne in communist Poland).