2024-06-02 – 20:25 h

Jan A.P. Kaczmarek passed away on May 21, 2024, after a long and serious illness (read more).  On Saturday, May 25th, the funeral was celebrated in Kraków, and Robert Piaskowski delivered a heartwarming farewell speech that you can read below.


Speech delivered on May 25th at the funeral of Jan A.P. Kaczmarek by Robert Piaskowski




Dear Aleksandra,


Dear family, deeply immersed in grief, friends


Dear Janek,


That’s the diminutive you allowed to use everyone you found on your path and accepted, and gave them love. So this is how I will address you on behalf of all of us: friends, creators of music, members of film crews.

Many of us gathered here are certainly more worthy to speak in the name of the artistic community rather than myself. Many more could talk about the bygone times and their long-standing friendship with Jan. So, when Aleksandra called me, to say that Jan – so painfully aware of his passing away – wants me, Robert, to bid him farewell on behalf of everyone, I knew it was not only a great honour but also a great responsibility. Therefore, I would like to ask you, dear friends of Janek, to find between my words lacunae that you can fill with your memories.


A film music composer’s biography is often told in the chronology of the works he created, awards, distinctions, and honours… this is how monuments to great people are built. They provide the backbone of events, meetings, and achievements.  Let us leave that image of Jan to biographers and encyclopedists. Jan A.P. Kaczmarek has already secured his place in the Walks of Fame and Avenues of Stars and in the history of Polish and world cinema and theatre. It is far more important to expound today the message that Janek – this restless spirit ever on a quest, citizen of the world, experimenter – treated his music simply as a pretext to change the world.


I want to say how you  will be remembered, Janek. By us: your older and younger friends, the console hipsters, serious-minded directors, event sound and festival producers, neighbours, and friends. Personally, I will remember you as an uncompromising idealist. From the first meeting, I had that feeling that here I am meeting a man sure of his visions, whether musical or not: assertiveness, the gust of warmth you brought with your every appearance, your distinctive voice, the skill for the perfect punchline. I remember that first meeting, some time after Janek returned from Los Angeles to Poland. He had already been an Oscar winner, a status that intimidates, so I was intimidated and mesmerised. By the time we made the first concert, Jan had already been a legend of theatre and film music, a man opening all doors. His entrance into the room attracted everyone’s attention, and everyone listened when he spoke. My God, the skill of Janek’s talk! With an elegant phrase, beautiful metaphors, stories about himself and the world. He was a perfect storyteller. Also in music.


Back in Poznań, then in the United States, in Łódź, in Kraków, Gdynia, wherever he took to building something – he was engaged in the community, open, cosmopolitan, progressive. He anticipated themes important for our old world lost in its consumerism. At his beloved Transatlantyk festival, he created green stairs, eco-zones, and green subjects long before the philosophy of sustainable development became that of the polite world. Drumming for dying bees, music for glaciers and oceans, hunger and problems of the Global South, strengthening the role of women, minority rights… he spoke out on important matters, predicted a worrying future; we often talked about uncertain scenarios for the world’s future. He cared about democracy in Poland, about the fate of whales and rare birds. He suffered watching the return of populism, radical tendencies, and the rending of Polish but also American society, because he was always a man taking the world as a whole.


He rejected any vehemence, grudges, pettiness. He constantly remained above it all. Also literally, for his tall stature, handsome figure, charisma, and penetrating yet also warm gaze.  He was a dictator in artistic matters, but he never showed superiority. For many young people, including those present here today, he was a mentor and guardian. He created the perfect vision of a castle brimming with music and talents, and that is how his Rozbitek (Castaway) Institute was born. Many film composers say: it was Jan who chose me, who noticed me, it was Jan who gave me strength, who gave me that nudge out of the door into this activity, into creativity. A man distributing impulses. Like while you teach your child to ride a bike, you are behind, provide stability, but it is your junior who has to decide to take control of himself or herself and of the direction.


With his characteristic playful wink, he called music his religion that turned into profession. “I only have that one ambition”, he said, “the ambition to do interesting things”. And indeed, many interesting things he did. In music, he transcended genres, experimented, and struck with awe: with instrumentation, choice of voices, ethnic mix, and lyricism. He was the melodist consummate. His musical themes have the power to control feelings, and his works contain plenty of light, simple joy, and pure emotion. His path led from the dark romantic subtones of the Theatre of the Eighth Day towards filigree compositions, light as a feather, with a love for the piano and dulcimer – instruments you can create symphonies with.


In recent years, he made Kraków his permanent home, fell in love with Ola, head over heels. We all found them the most beautiful couple in Kraków. Everyone wanted them to grace events and festivals with their presence. We knew they were in love and happy, and such people are the most beautiful. Thus Kraków – the city of great film music composers: Penderecki, Preisner, Konieczny, Pawluśkiewicz, and Korzeniowski – gained another reason for pride, as Oscar-winning Jan A.P. Kaczmarek chose it for his home.


In these recent years, Aleksandra and the family stood up heroically to Janek’s terminal illness. We were all helpless to watch together with awe and admiration Aleksandra – finding so much strength. Ola, we owe it solely to you that we could have Janek for so much longer. In these last years, we met on the stage of the Katowice NOSPR during the pandemic. Jan was already very frail and sick, and he found it difficult to speak. We all felt that our time was slipping away. Jan was dying, losing strength, returning to the hospital ever more often, but when we happened to meet in his Kraków home, we ate pavlovas and strawberries, and drank a sea of coffee. Despite his immense suffering, Jan did enjoy these little pleasures. We planned concerts and tours, cherished the idea that we’d do something together in Japan, where he is so popular, and in the States – especially Finding Neverland with live music.


Precisely a year ago, to a day, on 25 May, we celebrated his 70th birthday with a solemn concert, an exhibition of his memorabilia and stories at the Manggha Museum, and at the foot of Royal Wawel Hill, we unveiled his star with his handprint. While negotiating the lineup for the anniversary concert a year ago, and I suggested a simpler solution, he replied, “Robert, I no longer have time for compromises”. In this, Janek was extraordinary: he knew that to achieve something important in art, one must have a clear vision of things and a sense of timing. He did have a sense of timing, an important trait in a composer.


In an interview he gave over 20 years ago, he said, “There is that recurrent motif in my life: as soon as I reach an important point, usually a peak, I swiftly run away”. How eloquent are these words today. Janek always knew exactly when to come and when you need to leave. It is astonishing that he did on the eve of the Krakow Film Music Festival, which brought us together fifteen years ago, and whose regular guest he was. He knew that friends would throng from all corners: from Poland and other countries, composers from Hollywood, publishers, many of whom he knew from industry conferences or music galas. Yesterday, one of the composers told me that when he boarded the plane in Warsaw, the music from Finding Neverland was playing, and he found it an extraordinary sign. Such stories and coincidences, or non-coincidences abound whenever we talk about Janek and his creations.


There is a photo we recently showed in the Kordegarda: against the background of Walt Disney Hall there is Jan, holding his head high, holding under his arm a dulcimer that looks like some ancient instrument, an Orphic harp perhaps, and Jan himself looks like Orpheus imagined by the pre-raphaelites: holding his head high, certain that everything he loves follows him. In a beautiful beam of light, he literally seems to be hovering above the ground. And walking confidently towards the light.


During one of the last conversations, although bedridden and trapped in the shell of his fragile body, he told me, hardly intelligibly already, that the text of this cantata is his entire life’s creed. Even though he has no command of Polish, Dirk Brossé, present here, conducted this piece at last year’s FMF just as Jan the Dreamer dreamt it. He remarked that Dirk performed it at the perfect tempo. Happiness and life need to be measured at the right tempo. There is no time for anything else.


Janek expressed himself in his own words but found a message that resounded with him in Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata: a message he shares with us today between our worlds:


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.


Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection.


Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.


Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.


Be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.


And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.


Strive to be happy.


With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.


On board of Lot Polish Airlines planes, you can hear the music from Finding Neverland, whose Polish title – Marzyciel – means: The Dreamer. Every time, as the plane takes off, I close my eyes and Jan A.P. Kaczmarek leads us towards the light again and again. Our Dreamer.




You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.


And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.


Soar unimpeded through the higher aeons. Return peacefully towards the light you came from. Dear Janek, we thank you.


Robert Piaskowski, the Artistic Director of the Krakow Film Music Festival

Translated by Piotr Krasnowolski