Piano of ‘forgotten’ 19th century composer returns to its adopted home after two year campaign
A piano made and signed by a forgotten 19th century Polish composer who co-founded the first Edinburgh Festival and was discovered by chance by his relative online, has been ceremonially installed in the Scottish capital and unveiled with two inaugural concerts.
The rare square piano produced by Felix Yaniewicz’s musical instrument-making business ‘Yaniewicz and Green’ in 1810, was the subject of a successful £6,000 online fundraising campaign by his great-great-great-great granddaughter Josie Dixon earlier this year to bring it back to the city he chose to make his home and tell his story to a wider audience.
Felix Yaniewicz was a virtuoso violinist born in Vilnius, then part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, who played for Polish King Stanislaw August Poniatowski and in Vienna for Mozart and Haydn and emigrated to Britain sometime during the French Revolution as by 1792 he was established on the musical scene in London.
Making a significant cultural contribution to his new home, he is credited with introducing Beethoven’s 'Christ on the Mount of Olives’ to Britain and helping co-found the first Edinburgh Music Festival in 1815, the precursor of all subsequent festivals held in the city.
After being transported by car from a restoration workshop in Lincolnshire, the piano made its historic arrival at its new permanent home, the Polish Ex-Combatants’ House on the 12th of November, where it was greeted by Marek Straczynski, chairman of the Polish Ex-Combatants’ House and Dr Łukasz Lutostański, Consul General of Poland in Edinburgh, who helped with the heavy lifting of the instrument.
Marking the momentous moment, on the same evening the first of the piano’s two inaugural concerts was held with an introduction by Josie Dixon and performances on the instrument by early keyboard music specialist Steven Devine, with a second concert on the 14th November by Pawel Siwczak.
In recognition of Yaniewicz’s place amongst contemporary European composers of the time, with whom he was in various ways associated, the repertoire of the first concert included pieces by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Dusek and Clementi.
The second focused on Polish piano music inspirations, especially Polonaises and Mazurkas, culminating in Chopin.
Yaniewicz and Chopin just missed each other in Edinburgh in 1848 as Yaniewicz died in May that year, while Chopin visited the city in the autumn.
Josie Dixon told TFN: “Last weekend in Edinburgh was the fulfilment of a project that has been two years in the making.
“I’m really delighted by the success of the crowdfunding, and it is wonderful how much this project has been taken to heart by the Scottish Polish community.
“There was a lot of excitement surrounding the arrival of the piano at the Polish House.
“The two concerts were the perfect way to celebrate, and to give voice to this historic instrument, with its beautiful tone and special resonance.
“It was thrilling to hear Yaniewicz’s music on this piano, set in the context of the contemporary European composers he encountered during his remarkable career, and also as part of a tradition of Polish composers in exile, who wrote into their music a powerful sense of longing for their homeland.”
The piano’s move will see it part of a wider project to remember Yaniewicz’s musical legacy.
This will include a performance of his compositions by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a major exhibition organised by The Friends of Felix Yaniewicz in Edinburgh’s Georgian House in 2022 entitled ‘Music and Migration in Georgian Edinburgh: The Story of Felix Yaniewicz’, in which the piano will be a centrepiece.
Dixon told TFN: “A lot of work is going on behind the scenes towards the exhibition at the Georgian House, opening next summer.
“And the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s revival of one of his violin concertos in December 2022 will be a wonderful climax to next year’s celebrations.
“I’m very excited about that, since it will be the first time it has been heard in Britain since Yaniewicz himself was the soloist two hundred years ago.”
To read me more about Yaniewicz and the piano click here.