WARSAW, Poland

- Wojciech Kilar, a Polish pianist and composer of classical music and scores for many films, including Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning "The Pianist" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula," died yesterday. He was 81.

The composer died in his hometown of Katowice, southern Poland, following a long illness, said Jerzy Kornowicz, head of the Association of Polish Composers.

"The power and the message of his music, as well as the noble character of Wojciech Kilar as a person, will stay in my memory forever," said Kornowicz.

A modest man who often avoided public attention, Kilar's main love was composing symphonies and concertos, and he always put that above movies, even though he wrote the scores of dozens of films. He drew inspiration from Polish folk music and religious prayers and hymns, which he had learned in Latin as an altar boy.

But it was film music, especially for Coppola's 1992 erotic horror movie, that brought this prolific vanguard composer to the world's attention and commissions from other celebrity directors, including Jane Campion and her "Portrait of a Lady." Kilar once said the three criteria that made him write film music were, in this order: the name of the director, the salary and the script.

In a 2007 interview with PLUS, a journal about Polish-American affairs, he recalled asking Coppola in Los Angeles what kind of music he was expecting and the director replied: "I did my part. You are the composer. Do what you want."

Kilar's dedication to composing primarily for the concert halls even led him to lose a commission to write the score for Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. "In a movie, music is just one of the many elements," Kilar once said. "Serious music, which I compose, is signed with my name only, and I get real pleasure from that."

But in 2012, while receiving an honorary doctorate in Poland, he admitted that he never felt sure of the quality of the works he created until musicians and audiences gave their verdict.

Kilar wrote music for more than 130 movies in Poland and abroad, but "Dracula" won him the Best Score Composer award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1992.

Kilar's best known works from the time are the jazzy "Riff 62"; "Diphtongos," a composition for a choir with orchestra; and a minimalist "Upstairs-Downstairs" for two children's choirs and an orchestra.

Most of his works were written for symphony orchestras - often with a solo voice, or instrument or choir - and range from symphonies and concertos to religious choral pieces such as the powerful "Exodus" of 1981, "Angelus" in 1984 and the "Magnificat," written in 2006.

Kilar was born on July 17, 1932, in Lviv, a former Polish city now in Ukraine, to a doctor and an actress. The family moved to Rzeszow in southeastern Poland, then to Katowice in the south, where Kilar continued the musical education that he had started in Rzeszow.

He made Katowice - the heart of Poland's industrial and coal mining region - his home, finding charm and peace in the area and its people.

A well-known anecdote says that when Coppola asked the composer what it took to write music like his, Kilar cryptically replied: "You need to live in Katowice." He was known to also consider Katowice a place of hard work, where toil and effort are respected.

His wife of over 40 years, Barbara, died in 2007. They had no children.

Kilar will be buried in Katowice on Saturday.