Joanna Bruzdowicz was born on 17 May 1943 in Warsaw. She grew up in a musical environment: he mother was a pianist and her father an architect and cellist. A child prodigy, she was composing from the age of six. At the Higher Music School in Warsaw, from which she gained a diploma in 1966, she studied composition with Kazimierz Sikorski and the piano with Irena Protasewicz and Wanda Łosakiewicz. She wrote her first music criticism for a jazz magazine and led a career as pianist that gained her recognition in Belgium, Austria and Czechoslovakia. She co-founded the Polish section of the Jeunesses Musicales, of which she was general secretary between 1964 and 1968.
After obtaining a bursary from the French government, she continued her apprenticeship in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen. She joined the GRM and studied with Pierre Schaeffer (1968-1970). She completed he training with a doctoral thesis entitled Mathematics and Logic in Contemporary Music that was supervised by Jacques Chailley at the Sorbonne. In 1975 she acquired French nationality.
The Polish origins of Joanna Bruzdowicz appear in her work and in her career path. Her music lies within the tradition of a colourful, lively and expressive neo-classicism, nuanced with the sonorities of the Polish School (Krzystof Penderecki, Witold Lutoslawski). For example, Mater Polonica for organ (1973) contains clusters, a quick-fire perpetuum mobile as well as an atonal polyphonic system and a theme that is modal in character in a free improvisation. There is a homage to Poland too in her Sonate d’octobre for piano (1978), written on the occasion of the election of the Polish pope John-Paul II. Similarly, in 1982, she wrote Dreams and drums for percussion, a work commemorating the 13 December 1981, the first day of the state of siege in Poland: dreams were stifled by blows from the military’s drum sticks.
In 1981 her interest in the music of Karol Szymanowski, the precursor of the whole Polish school of the twentieth century, and to whom she paid tribute in her First String Quartet ‘La Vita’ (1973), led her to becoming director of the Szymanowski Committee. From this committee sprang, in Belgium, the Frédéric Chopin – Karol Szymanowski Association, the aim of which was not merely to increase knowledge of the music of both composers but also to facilitate contacts between young Belgian and Polish artistes.
Bruzdowicz, vice-president of the International Federation of Chopin Societies, also became a music critic and promoted Polish music, notably through many broadcasts on French, German, Belgian, Italian, Spanish and American radios. In 2001 she was awarded the highest distinction of the Polish government, the Order Polonia Restituta, for her contribution to Polish culture, and in 2013 she received the Polish Medal for Cultural Merit ‘Gloria Artis’ (Zasłużony Kulturze - Gloria Artis).
The music of Joanna Bruzdowicz also reflects other influences. Bartokaglia, for example, a piece for solo tape in the form of a passacaglia (1979) in homage to Béla Bartók, her spiritual teacher. Extra-European music is also finds an echo in her output. Marlos Grosso Brasileiras, chant d’amitié - for flute, violin, harpsichord and tape (1980) - shows, through its stylised Brazilian rhythms, her attachment to Brazilian music, of which Marlos Nobre is one of the most important composers. Similarly, her Trio dei due mondi (1980) juxtaposes avant-garde European gestures, South American dance rhythms and elements of jazz.
Catalan in her heart, Bruzdowicz settled in the south of France. In 1996 she founded and directed the International Music Festival of Céret in the Pyrénées Orientales region. In her cycle 16 tableaux d’une exposition de Salvador Dali for piano (2004), some of the titles are an evocation of Catalonia: ‘Young Girl of the Ampurda’, ‘Perpignan Station’, “The Hallucinogenic Torero’. etc.
Bruzdowicz’s music is always significative, is associated with poetic or natural images, with ideas taken from classical literary texts or reflections of her personal fascinations. Homo Faber (1971-1975) is a trilogy of electronic music inspired by a different writer for each part: Alexander Solzhenitsyn for the first part ‘The Breath’, Charles Baudelaire for the second ‘Solitude’ and Paul Valéry for the last piece ‘Serenity’. Premiered in Belgium, in Ghent, in 1975, this trilogy, a celebration of a deep love for life, bears a title in homage to Max Frisch and to his eponymous novel. These three frescos, with their highly poetic sound palette, charmed the painter Bogfaert to the point that he wanted to illustrate this music made to reverberate “between the walls of the imaginary palaces in his paintings”. In Cantus aeternus (1988), her second string quartet, an actor recites text fragments taken from a large range of poetry in several languages.
Literature is also much present in Bruzdowicz’s operas. La Colonie pénitentiaire (1972) was written from Kafka, Les Troyennes from Euripides (1973); and The Gates of Paradise (1986) is based on her own adaptation of an historical novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski portraying the tragic story of the Children’s Crusade in the thirteenth century.
Joanna Bruzdowicz has shown an innate sense of dramaturgy in her operas as in her music theatre pieces, blending measured, refined music and expressive production values. In Equivocita, a small-scale piece of music theatre for clavichord (1978), she organises the performer’s stage play as he moves about the clavichord.
Her musical and dramatic talents are expressed particularly effectively in her operas, their subject matter often dark and tragic. In the second version of La Colonie pénitentiaire, first performed in Liège (Belgium) in 1986, the nightmarish imagery and the frightful events in Kafka’s text find an interpretation that is faithful and no less worrying in her music through the expressive use of ‘Sprechgesang’ (speech-song) and electronic sounds. Anguish, absurdity, suffering are conveyed in her works with a musical vehemence void of exaggeration, gratuitous effects or tear-jerking sentimentality.
The composer tries to blend the present-day and her political and aesthetic preoccupations with a language that is grammatically evolved, to form a message that is not elitist but rather accessible to younger audiences. She has said, in connection with Les Troyennes, she tried to awaken present-day sensitivities to the despair, the drama represented by wars of oppression and to the necessity of struggling for peace.
Bruzdowicz wrote the music for the 36 episodes of Stahlkammer Zürich, a German series directed by her husband Horst-Jurgen Tittel. She has written the music for many feature films and has collaborated notably with Agnès Varda (Sans toit ni loi, 1985; Jacquot de Nantes, 1991; The Gleaners and I, 2001), Gilles Katz (La Mort de Lord Chatterley, 1972), Yves Angelo (Les Âmes grises, 2006) and Laurent Vinas-Raymond (J'ai oublié de te dire, 2009).
In 2006, in Perpignan, she opened the Cat.Studios, a cinema production-distribution company and studio for film music.