Polish composer Joanna Bruzdowicz, a great friend and benefactor of the Polish Music Center, would have been eighty years old this May 17. Unfortunately, she unexpectedly passed away at her residence in the south of France on November 3, 2021. Since then, her three sons—Mark, Jan and Jörg Tittel with their families—had generously donated a number of manuscripts, concert programs and posters, photographs and press clippings to the Polish Music Center. Keeping up the momentum of preserving Bruzdowicz’s legacy, several events to commemorate this important Polish composer during her anniversary year are taking place.

One of the first was the recent signing of the agreement to donate Bruzdowicz’s upright Kerntopf piano to the Radziejowice Palace Artists’ Retreat, overseen by Jolanta Miśkowiec, Director – Department of Cultural Heritage Abroad, at the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage [MKiDN] in Warsaw. Pictured above, this agreement was signed by Mark Tittel, on behalf of his stepbrothers Jan and Jörg, and by Ewa Wytrążek, Director of the Radziejowice Palace where the Kerntopf piano will reside.

This ornate, late-19th century Kerntopf upright was once owned by Maryla Karwowska (1903-1967), a famous soprano who, after her auspicious debut at the Warsaw Opera in 1925, enjoyed decades of successful career on stages across Europe and America. Karwowska’s parents, Julian and Maria Olszewski, were friends of Ignacy Jan Paderewski who called on them on the occasion of his concerts at the newly-opened Warsaw Philharmonic in 1901. As related to Joanna Bruzdowicz by her aunt, Maryla Karwowska, Paderewski played on this Kerntopf upright when he visited her parents and ever since that time this instrument was one of the most venerated family heirlooms. 

After Maryla Karwowska died unexpectedly at the Chicago airport in October 1967, Joanna and her mother inherited the contents of Karwowska’s apartment in central Warsaw, where the Kerntopf upright dominated the living room. Years later, well after Joanna Bruzdowicz had permanently settled abroad, this instrument ended up at her home in Mas Terrats—a secluded property in the Pyrenees, where this historic instrument resided in a large and elegantly furnished living room. Above it, surrounded by antique wall sconces, was Maryla Karwowska’s large portrait, painted by an unidentified Polish artist in the late 1930s or the 1940s.

After Joanna Bruzdowicz’s own untimely death, a decision was made to return the instrument to Poland. One challenge of this transfer was finding an appropriate place where it would be preserved and used for performances commemorating not only the composer and her world-famous soprano aunt, but also for spotlighting the Kerntopf’s link to Paderewski, whose ties to the Kerntopf family were very close and cordial. Among the proposed suggestions for placement were Paderewski’s manor house in Kąśna Dolna in southern Poland, as well as Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki, where Maryla Karwowska performed throughout her life. In the end, through the good offices of Jolanta Miśkowiec and Donata Jaworska, Head of Department of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and with considerable assistance and advice from Agnieszka Komar-Morawska, Director of National Cultural Institutions at the Ministry, the Radziejowice Palace was ultimately chosen to receive the Kerntopf piano. It will join a collection of keyboard instruments that are placed in various palace rooms and several annexes as well as artistic residences all around the Radziejowice Artists’ Colony complex.

The official act of donation was signed at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in Warsaw on 27 March 2023. As donors, the composer’s family was represented by Mark Tittel and Dobromiła Skalska, while the Radziejowice Palace recipients were represented by Director Ewa Wytrążek and Deputy Director, Paweł Kos-Nowicki. The Ministerial hosts of this important event were Director Jolanta Miśkowiec and Aleksandra Figurska, Head Specialist – Department of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad at the Ministry. This meeting also set the date for transporting the Kerntopf from southern France to Poland for mid-April, and preliminary plans were drawn for a concert at the Radziejowice Palace commemorating Joanna Bruzdowicz and celebrating the receipt of this important gift.

The oil portrait of Maryla Karwowska, already back in Poland, will be donated to the Radziejowice Palace after appropriate agreements are concluded between the donors and the recipients. Further news of concerts and other developments relating to Joanna Bruzdowicz and the Polish Music Center’s Manuscript Collection will be shared with our readers on this site in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, many thanks to Mark, Jan and Jörg Tittel and their families for their generous and truly historical gift. Our special appreciation also goes to many dedicated Ministry of Culture principals and diplomatic representatives at the Polish Consulate in Lyon who tirelessly worked on this complex but ultimately very satisfying project of repatriating a small part of Poland’s musical history back to its rightful place.