Monday 8 March 2021

Felix Yaniewicz: the discovery of one of his square pianos has spurred on research into this celebrated violin virtuoso and composer

The Yaniewicz and Green square piano which spurred Josie Dixon's research into her ancestor
The Yaniewicz and Green square piano which spurred Josie Dixon's research into her ancestor

Just over a year ago, Josie Dixon came across an advertisement for a square piano dated c.1810 bearing the label Yaniewicz and Green. Now Felix Yaniewicz was Josie Dixon's great-great-great-great-grandfather, and the discovery of the square piano has prompted her to do more research into Felix Yaniewicz, setting up a website and planning an exhibition in Edinburgh next year.

Felix Yaniewicz was a Polish-Lithuanian violin virtuoso and composer (born Feliks Janiewicz), who came to this country in the late eighteenth century and co-founded the first Edinburgh Music Festival in 1815. He was heard and admired in Vienna by the tenor Michael Kelly (who sang in the premiere of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro), performed in the Salomon Orchestra in London under Haydn's direction as well as playing solos, and once in Edinburgh he remained there until he died.

Josie Dixon, herself, is no stranger to music as her mother was the composer Ailsa Dixon (1932-2017) and her grandmother Pat Harrison (1905-1998) founded the Little Missenden Festival in 1960. She has founded the Friends of Felix Yaniewicz, and an exhibition Music and Migration in Georgian Scotland: The Story of Felix Yaniewicz is planned at the Georgian House in Edinburgh in 2022. The centrepiece of this will not only be some of Yaniewicz's personal items that are still owned by the family, but also the square piano. As a result, they are fundraising to enable them to acquire the piano.

This itself has a curious history. Dating from around 1810, it came to light in Snowdonia around 20 years ago, when the restorer Douglas Hollick bought it for restoration. Despite its dilapidated condition he recognised it as an instrument of historical value. It is labelled Yaniewicz and Green and inside has a signature which matches those on Felix Yaniewicz's marriage certificate and surviving letter.

Having played the instrument, see below, Steven Devine, principal keyboard player of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, said of it, "Square pianos have become a rarity despite their central place in domestic music-making in the 18th and 19th centuries. This gem of an instrument is wonderful and interesting for two reasons: musically beautiful and in incredible condition following an expert and loving restoration, and also historically fascinating".

Read more at the Yaniewicz website, and Josie Dixon has written an article for the British Music Society, Music and Migration in Georgian Britain: The Story of Feliks Yaniewicz.

1 comment:

  1. The real research was Douglas Hollick's, and published in an article for the Dolmetsch Foundation's Consort journal. He in turn would like to credit the contributions of archivist Christine Barnes and editor Elizabeth Rees.


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