Obituary by Marek Zebrowski

Jan A. P. Kaczmarek, a prolific composer of film scores in Poland and Hollywood, died on May 21, 2024. He was 71 years old.

Born on April 29, 1953, in Konin in western Poland, Kaczmarek pursued music and law, graduating in 1977 from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. By the mid-1980s he began scoring for television films in Poland and found his niche in the American film industry with Doppelganger, a 1993 thriller featuring Drew Barrymore and directed by Avi Nesher, as his first major Hollywood credit. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kaczmarek provided successful scores for Total Eclipse (1995), Washington Square (1997), Aimee & Jaguar (1999) and Unfaithful (2002). Simultaneously, he continued to contribute to the Polish cinema industry by working with Agnieszka Holland on The Third Miracle (1999), Jerzy Kawalerowicz on Quo Vadis (2001), and Jurek Bogajewicz on Edges of the Lord (2001), among others.

The undisputed summit of Kaczmarek’s scoring career came with his music for Finding Neverland, a 2004 film with Johnny Depp, Julie Christie and Kate Winslet directed by Marc Foster. His subtle underscore captured the film’s fairytale-like atmosphere and brought Kaczmarek the 2005 Academy Award for “Best Achievement in Music Written to Motion Pictures, Original Score.”

PMC Director Marek Zebrowski congratulates Jan A.P. Kaczmarek at the residence of the Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles (March 2005)

More memorable scores followed with The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009), Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009), and Get Low (2009) in the U.S., while in Poland Kaczmarek’s music accompanied The Officer’s Wife (2010) directed by Piotr Uzarowicz, Efekt motylka [The butterfly effect] a 2020 documentary directed by Jarosław Szmidt, and the 2021 historical drama Śmierć Zygielbojma [Zygielbojm’s death], directed by Ryszard Brylski, among others.

The last few years of Kaczmarek’s life were marred by incurable illness and a gradual withdrawal from active life in the music and entertainment industry in Poland, where he resided throughout his last decade. Jan A.P. Kaczmarek held memberships in the Polish Film Academy, European Film Academy and American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Shortly after his Finding Neverland success, Kaczmarek founded the Rozbitek Institute in western Poland, inspired by the Sundance Institute in the U.S., and served as founder and director of the Transatlantyk Film Festival held annually in Łódź since 2013. Kaczmarek’s contributions to Polish culture were recognized with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 2015 and his important role in Polish cinema was confirmed by a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Polish Film Institute in 2023.

In 2015, the Gorzów Philharmonic led by Monika Wolińska recorded a survey of Kaczmarek’s best-known cues from several of his Polish and American films. The album’s track listing and title, Spotkanie/Meeting, refer to the two featured Polish composers who won Academy Awards for their music—Bronisław Kaper (for his score to the 1953 film, Lili) and Kaczmarek, whose Oscar for Finding Neverland came exactly fifty years later. The program notes for this elegantly-produced CD quote Kaczmarek’s reflections on composing for film:

I respond to what I see. I look for the best way to convey the emotions and bring out the best in the picture. When a director or producer calls me, it is usually because they already know my work. I have a need to pretend to sound like someone else. They accept my personality and are rarely surprised with what I present to them. […] I really like drama, and I like those projects where there is a kind of mysterious journey to find the way into people’s hearts. However, when you have success in something, people begin to expect a similar sound from you, so I often go out of my way to find something exciting and try something new.