Love letters of a Polish pianist discovered at the National Library of Wales

Auguste de Radwan
A photo of Marjorie Howell from Radwan’s wallet.
A photo of Marjorie Howell from Radwan’s wallet.

Hilary Peters, assistant archivist at the National Library of Wales, has spoken of her excitement after discovering a collection of love letters written by famous Polish pianist Auguste de Radwan to a Welsh woman.

The letters to Marjorie Howell (1906-1993) of Cwmcynfelyn near Aberystwyth were found amongst the records of the Gogerddan Estate near Aberystwyth.


Hilary takes up the story: “The name of Auguste de Radwan (1867-1957) has faded into obscurity but he was once a famous concert pianist, a notable authority on Chopin, fêted by the beau monde of Europe. His friends included Princess [Roza] Radziwill and Isifdor Philipp.


“It was hugely exciting to discover more than 250 letters by Radwan, written mostly in French, amongst the Gogerddan Estate records. Radwan was Polish but, like many other musicians, he was based in Paris for most of his career. In January 1926, a student of the Conservatoire de Paris asked for his autograph.


“Marjorie Howell was totally starstruck: Il etait charmant! Je l’adore! and the encounter developed into a love affair which lasted almost until Marjorie’s marriage to Sir Lewes Pryse of Gogerddan in 1938.


“The letters and Marjorie’s diaries vividly portray the musical life of Paris, the concerts by Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubenstein, Emil Von Sauer and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, as well as Radwan’s own performance for Mareschal Ferdinand Foch in 1928, and his meeting with Moriz Rosenthal in 1931.


“Marjorie described Radwan’s apartment at 107 Rue de l’Universite: three lovely rooms, two pianos, many books, pictures and a portrait of Chopin in the bedroom. His effects included silver-framed photographs of the Queens of Belgium and Italy and the velvet waistcoats and silk stocks that he liked to wear.


“After Marjorie’s return to Wales, the strain of the long-distance romance eventually caused its demise. Radwan kept her photographs and her first letter in his wallet until the day he died.”