Although Wojciech Kilar is ranked along with Gorecki, Lutoslawski, and Penderecki as one of Poland's greatest and most beloved symphonic composers, he is still known in the U.S. primarily for his award-winning film scores, in particular the music for Roman Polanski's powerful film, The Pianist. Kilar's Missa Pro Pace, composed in 2000 to honor the 100th Anniversary of the Warsaw Philharmonic, was performed at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II on December 7, 2001, serving, in effect, as an homage to peace following the terrorist attacks of September 11. Today's performance of the Missa Pro Pace marks its American premiere.
Born 1932 in Lviv, Wojciech Kilar studied piano and composition in Katowice and Krakow and expanded his training in composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris on a French government scholarship in 1959-60. He soon became known as a leader of the Polish musical vanguard. His Riff 62 (1962), ultra-modern in both sound and form, became a symbol of rebellion against tradition. At the "Warsaw Autumn" Festival of Contemporary Music it provoked several encores, something almost unheard of in contemporary music. After further successes Kilar shifted to a minimalist mode with the 12-minute Upstairs-Downstairs, which consists of two sounds, uninterrupted, from beginning to end. He felt then that "there was nothing more beautiful than the solitary sound or concord that lasted eternally, that this was the deepest wisdom, nothing like our tricks with sonata, allegros, fugues and harmonics."
Abandoning avant-garde technical means almost entirely, Kilar continued to employ a simplified musical language, in which sizeable masses of sound serve as a backdrop for highlighted melodies that are often emotionally potent. With similar building blocks Kilar's film music has won international acclaim, including his numerous scores for Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi, the music for Francis Ford Coppola's film Bram Stoker's Dracula (which won an ASCAP Award in 1992), and his score for The Pianist.
Kilar has remained faithful to this style not only in the compositions that reference folk music but also in the many patriotic and religious pieces that reflect Kilar's deep religious faith and devotion to his country.
In a letter of thanks to Mr. Kilar, the late Holy Father reiterated his expressions of gratitude following the Vatican concert: "That evening after the concert I said, 'A majestic simplicity, beautifully rooted in the Christian tradition, and a sound reflecting the Polish spirit that has blossomed from it, combine to make this a work that not only affords aesthetic impressions, but can release deeply religious experiences.' I said that with utter conviction. It is a very beautiful mass."