They created soundtracks for Stanley Kubrick, Fritz Lang, Francis Ford Coppola, Alain Resnais and Louis Malle: here are the most iconic Polish film composers.
Bronisław Kaper, 1902-1983
He composed the songs On Green Dolphin Street and Invitation, both jazz standards since they were covered by Miles Davis and John Coltrane respectively in 1958, as well as many other pieces, not only those featured in films. He spent 28 years working with the Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and wrote the scores to 150 films, including hits such as A Night at the Opera, Mutiny on the Bounty and BUtterfield 8. He won an Oscar in 1954 for his score to Lili by Charles Walters.
Henryk Wars, 1902-1977
It would be hard to imagine pre-war Polish music without him. At the beginning of the 1930s, his hits were sung by Poland’s greatest actors and actresses: Tadeusz Olsza, Hanka Ordonówna, Tola Mankiewiczówna, Eugeniusz Bodo and Mieczysław Fogg. He created music for many of the biggest blockbuster films of the time.
After the war, he moved to Hollywood in 1947 and ended up living in poverty for a few years, only to successfully return to composing film music in the 1950s. He went on to write the music to Hollywood productions such as Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat, Seven Men from Now and Flipper.
Mieczysław Wajnberg, 1919 - 1996
When the future composer and pianist was 12 years old, he was taken under the wing of the best piano teacher in Poland at the time: Józef Turczyński. In 1936, barely 17 years old, he wrote the music to his first film: Fredek Uszczęśliwia Świat.
When war broke out, he managed to escape to Belorussia but the rest of his family perished in Trawniki concentration camp. He studied composing in Minsk and years later would become one of the most well-known composers of the Soviet period. Amongst his film achievements, there is a special place for Mikhail Kalatozow’s 1957 film The Cranes are Flying.
Włodzimierz Kotoński, 1925-2014
This composer was one of Poland’s pioneers of electronic music. He was one of the first people to work with the Polish Radio Experimental Studio after it was founded in 1957, an influential project that was a creative hub making use of tape and electronics. He composed the music for many animated and documentary films, amongst which were distinguished and multi-award-winning works such as Walerian Borowczyk’s House and Jan Lenica’s Labyrinth.
Adam Walaciński, 1928-2015.
The composer and critic had a long-term working relationship with director Jerzy Kawalerowicz and wrote the music for Pharoah, Mother Joan of the Angels, Death of a President, and The Real End of the Great War.
Although he also worked with highly-respected directors such as Krzysztof Zanussi, Sylwester Chęciński and Stanisław Lenartowicz, millions in Poland remember him mainly for his music to the TV series Four Tank-Men and a Dog that ran between 1966 and 1970 and was created by Konrad Nałęcki.
Krzysztof Komeda-Trzciński, 1931-1969
A legendary musician – a composer, jazz piano player and one of the founders of the Polish jazz school. He composed music to over 70 films, but Rosemary’s Lullaby alone from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby cemented Komeda a place in film history. And to think, he quit studying medicine to become a musician. After composing the score for Polanski’s Two Men and a Wardrobe in 1958, his career blossomed. He went on to write the music for Wajda’s Innocent Sorcerers, Morgenstern’s See You Tomorrow and Polanski’s Knife in the Water, Cul-De-Sac, The Fearless Vampire Killers and Rosemary’s Baby.
Wojciech Kilar, 1932-2013
His music can be heard in more than 170 films. He collaborated with many greats of Polish cinema: Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Kazimierz Kutz. In 1992, Kilar received the ASCAP Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for the film score to Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Kilar also composed the film scores for Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Blind Chance, Andrzej Wajda’s The Promised Land, Krzysztof Zanussi’s Spiral and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist.
Krzysztof Penderecki, b. 1933
Despite not composing any film scores since the mid-1960s, his pieces can be heard in many classic films, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Andrzej Wajda’s Katyń and numerous animations by the Quay Brothers. When asked about why he stopped writing film scores, Penderecki responded that he found it too simple and addictive. In a talk with Dziennik.pl he stated that ‘one can go to the other side and never come back or come back with difficulty.’
His last film score was composed more than 50 years ago, when in 1964 he wrote the music to The Saragossa Manuscript and The Codes, both directed by Wojciech J. Has, and to Alain Resnais’ Je T’Aime Je T’Aime.
Janusz Hajdun, 1935-2008
A pianist and composer who collaborated with the greatest polish creators of animations, feature films and experimental pieces. Born on February 25th 1935. Graduated from the Higher State School of Music in Sopot in a piano section and from the PWSM in Gdańsk in a composition section.
Composed theatre music (was one of the founders of Bim-Bom Theatre in Gdańsk), songs (including a famous “Niech no tylko zakwitną jabłonie”) and film scores. Was an author of film scores to an Oscar winner Zbigniew Rybczyński’s Tango, Piotr Dumała’s numerous films (e.g. Crime and Punishment and Franz Kafka) and Hieronim Neumann’s Counting Rhyme. Hajdun also wrote the music to Wojciech Wiszniewski’s The Primer, Bogdan Dziworski’s Ski Scenes with Franz Krammer and Grzegorz Królikiewicz’s The Dancing Hawk and Inside Out.
Henryk Kuźniak, b. 1936
Melodies composed by him are well-recognized by all Polish cinephiles. Not many of them know that he is the author of film scores for Juliusz Machulski’s Sexmission, Vabank and Vabank II. Kuźniak composed film scores to over 150 films and series (including the popular For Troubles… Bednarski). Particularly beautiful are his compositions for films made by Andrzej Barański (e.g. A Woman from the Provinces) with whom he constantly cooperates.
Zygmunt Konieczny, b. 1937
He is well known as a “happy composer of sad songs”. Has written both film and theatre music, but is also the author of the mostly praised Ewa Demarczyk’s songs. He has collaborated with the famous singer since 1962.
Has composed for the great Polish theatre directors: Konrad Swinarski, Andrzej Wajda, Leszek Mądzik and Jerzy Jarocki. Konieczny was also lucky enough to work with great film figures. He composed the film score to Antoni Krauze’s God’s Finger, Wojciech Marczewski’s Escape from the ‘Liberty’ Cinema, Tadeusz Konwicki’s The Issa’s Valley, Andrzej Barański’s Lucyna, Stanisław Różewicz’s Funny Old Man and Jan Jakub Kolski’s The History of the Cinema in Popielawy and Pornography.
Andrzej Korzyński, b. 1940
A composer and creator of scores to films and series, also an author of popular songs. He wrote the music to numerous Andrzej Wajda’s films, including The Birch Wood, Man of Marble and Man of Iron, but also to Sylwester Chęciński’s popular comedies and to a film franchise about Mr Kleks.
Still, he will be remembered as a constant Andrzej Żuławski’s collaborator. Korzyński wrote the music to as many as ten of the director’s films: starting with The Story of Triumphant Love from 1967, through The Devil (1972) and On the Silver Globe (1987), up to Fidelity (2000) and Cosmos (2015).
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, b. 1953
He is a composer of film scores for over fifty films and an Oscar winner for the soundtrack of Finding Neverland.
The beginnings of his musical career are connected with Jerzy Grotowski. When Kaczmarek was in his early twenties he got enrolled in the avant-garde Teatr Laboratorium and later in The Theater of the Eight Day. Among the very same group he founded The Orchestra of the Eight Day with which he successfully completed a tour in the United States.
Concerning films Kaczmarek worked, among many others, with Agnieszka Holland (Total Eclipse, Washington Square and The Third Miracle) and Janusz Kamiński (Lost Souls, Hanna) while in his filmography we find films such beautiful as Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor and Maks Färberböck’s Aimée & Jaguar.
Michał Lorenc, b. 1955
He is one of two (with Paweł Mykietyna) composers, who won the Festival of Polish Feature Films in Gdynia five times. He is an author of film scores for almost 180 films, including Bob Rafelson’s Blood and Wine starring Jack Nicholson.
However, his greatest compositions were created in Poland, where he wrote music for films and series like Maciej Dejczar’s 300 Miles to Heaven, Władysław Pasikowski’s Dogs, Krzysztof Langa’s Provocator, Maciej Dejczar’s Bandit and Jan Jakub Kolski’s Far From the Window.
Zbigniew Preisner, b. 1955
A self-taught composer, he studied history and philosophy at the Jagiellonian University. He became a part of the Kraków-based cabaret Piwnica pod Baranami, and later took up working for the town's Stary Theatre. He began to write scores for films directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski (The Double Life of Veronique, Three Colors, Short Film About Love), whose success sparked off Preisner's career in Europe and the United States.
However, it would be inaccurate to associate Prisner’s work solely with Kieślowski's cinema for he also wrote music for other great directors such as Hector Babenco (At Play In The Fields Of The Lord), Luis Malle (Damage), Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden) and Thomas Vinterberg (It’s All About Love).
He is the three-times winner of the Los Angeles Critics Association Award for the year’s most outstanding composer of film music. He won the César Award for Three Colors: Red (1995) and Jean Becker’s Elisa (1996), as well as the Berlin Silver Bear for Søren Kragh-Jacobse’s The Island on Bird Street.
Mikołaj Trzaska, b. 1966
Saxophonist, bass clarinet player, and composer considered the icon of the Polish jazz avant-garde. His musical journeys concentrate on finding a common denominative between Jewish and contemporary music.
While a member of the yass group Miłość he contributed to recording the music for Olaf Lubaszenko’s Sztos in 1997.
He wrote the music for documentaries (And what would you say, Gałuszko? Directed by Marcin Sauter and Maciej Cuske) and short films (Borys Lankosz’s Alien VI).
He gained recognition as a score writer through his long-term collaboration with one of the most popular Polish film directors of the last decade - Wojciech Smarzowski. He composed music for four of his films: Dom Zły (The Dark House), Róża, (Rose), Drogówka (Traffic Department) and Pod Nocnym Aniołem (The Mighty Angel). Their fifth common film Wołyń (Volyn) is scheduled to be released in 2016.
Paweł Mykietyn, b. 1971
He is one of the most outstanding contemporary Polish composers known also for his many film scores. As early as in his twenties he won the prestigious European competitions for young composers. It didn’t take long for cinema and theatre industry to use his talent for their productions. He was appointed music director of the Studio Theatre and the New Theatre run by Krzysztof Warlikowski.
He wrote music for Małgorzata Szumowska’s (It, 33 Scenes from Life, In the name of ...), Andrzej Wajda’s (Sweet Rush, Wałęsa ...) and Jerzy Skolimowski’s (Essential Killing, 11 minutes).
He is a five-time winner of the Golden Lions for Best Film Score at the Gdynia Film Festival.
Abel Korzeniowski, b. 1972
One of the greatest talents among Polish film music composers who has two nominations for Golden Globe for Best Original Score to his credit including Tom Ford’s A single Man and Madonna’s W.E. He was also nominated for an Emmy for the soundtrack of the popular series Penny Dreadful.
His first major success came in 2000 when he won an individual prize – a Golden Lion for Best Film Score at the Gdynia Film Festival for his music for Jerzy Stuhr’s Duże zwierzę (The Big Animal) based on a screenplay by Krzysztof Kieślowski. He wrote the music for Borys Lankosz’s A grain of Truth, Scott Z. Burn’s Pu-239 and Carlo Carlei’s Romeo&Juliet.
Source: own materials, edited by BS, translated by AZ, AW and GS, 25/01/2015