An early 19th-century square piano, signed by Felix Yaniewicz, musician and co-founder of the first Edinburgh Music Festival, has been restored and is now at its new, permanent home at the Polish Ex-Combatants House on Drummond Place in Edinburgh, just around the corner from Great King Street, where Felix Yaniewicz lived until his death.
Dating from 1810, the ’Yaniewicz & Green’ square piano dates arrived in Edinburgh last November following its restoration and a crowdfunding campaign by The Friends of Felix Yaniewicz in partnership with the Scottish Polish Cultural Association. It was discovered in a dilapidated condition in a private house in Snowdonia 20 years ago, by the early keyboard expert Douglas Hollick, who bought the piano and restored it to its former glory. Two years ago, by chance, the advertisement for the newly restored piano was spotted by a descendant of Yaniewicz’s, Josie Dixon.
Two concerts celebrated the piano’s arrival in Edinburgh – one on 12th November by Steven Devine, who played a programme setting Yaniewicz’s music in the context of contemporaries with whom he was associated in different ways: Haydn, Mozart, Dussek, Clementi and Beethoven. Steven Devine praised the instrument for the variety of tonal colours that give it a very distinctive voicing in different ranges – quite unlike the homogenous sound of a modern piano.
The second concert, by Pawel Siwczak, an all-Polish programme with music from Yaniewicz to Chopin, who just missed Yaniewicz in Edinburgh in 1848: Yaniewicz died in May of that year and Chopin visited in the autumn.
“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 due to the connection with this important composer” – Steven Devine, principal keyboard player, Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment
The piano will be on display to the public at the 2022 exhibition at The Georgian House, Edinburgh, entitled Music and Migration in Georgian Edinburgh: The Story of Felix Yaniewicz, from 25th June until October 2022. The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of related events, including writer Armando Iannucci in conversation with Josie Dixon on music, migration and Scotland, concerts by Kate Semens (soprano) and Steven Devine (piano), and a musical “show and tell” exploring historic instruments and the fascinating stories behind them.