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The Story of a Piano

Music and Migration

Yaniewicz’s Journey from Polish-Lithuania to Scotland

We can follow the journey of Felix Yaniewicz through Europe due to his fame as a performer. There are accounts of performances or lists of performers at particular concerts and therefore we can piece together where he played through these records. There are also, of course, the unknown events and questions that we might have about why Felix Yaniewicz moved or who else he might have met or known in music circles.

Felix Yaniewicz was born in Vilnius in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in 1762. (His name was initially spelled as Feliks Janiewicz although he changed this as soon as he arrived in Britain to Felix Yaniewicz which is more anglicised).

One family heirloom is a silver stand and bowl from Yaniewicz’s homeland. 

Silver bowl and its stand which belonged to Felix Yaniewicz.
Silver Stand with Bowl

Silver stand with the coin at the centre of the stand. The heads side of the coin can be seen.
Silver Stand inset with a Polish-Lithuanian Coin

There are records of him being part of the court orchestra in the Polish Royal Chapel from the age of just 15. 


Royal Patronage

King Stanislaw August Poniatowski must have recognised his talent and skill as he funded a trip to Vienna in 1785 as Felix’s patron. Here, Felix performed in front of Mozart and Haydn. He is mentioned by Mozart’s early biographer, Otto Jahn.

Michael Kelly, a famous tenor at the time, also commented on Felix Yaniewicz’s virtuosity saying:

'a very young man, in the service of the King of Poland, he touched the instrument with thrilling effect, and was an excellent leader of an orchestra.'

Michael Kelly in Highfill and Burnim,
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, p.135


Felix’s name appears on several concert programmes from Italy where he performed in Milan, Rome and Florence. After this, he travelled to Paris and made his French debut in 1787 at the Concert Spirituel in the Tuileries Palace. The Duke of Orleans became Felix’s French patron however disruption was on the horizon in Paris as the French Revolution started in 1789.


Moving to Britain

The Concert Spirituel performances stopped in 1790 and there is evidence that many musicians were displaced as the Revolution turned violent. At the same time the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was weakening and the powers surrounding it, Russia, Prussia and Austria, were strengthening. By 1795, the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth had been completely divided up (through the Partitions).

Yaniewicz moved to Britain to make a new life; today we would call him a refugee.

In July 1792, a man named William Godwin, who was a political philosopher, records Yaniewicz at a dinner in London. Among the other guests was Muzio Clementi, another musician and performer who had come to England in the 1760s. Quartets were played after dinner. Clementi and Yaniewicz later collaborated with selling square pianos.

From this time onwards, there are records of Felix Yaniewicz performing and leading an orchestra in many places (e.g., Dublin, Bath, London). He is mentioned by Haydn in his First London Notebook as performing when Haydn is in London (including Felix Yaniewicz playing at a benefit concert for Haydn in 1792).

Felix Yaniewicz was one of the performers at the Liverpool music festival in 1799. Later in 1799, there is a record of his marriage in Liverpool to Eliza Breeze. Felix Yaniewicz and his growing family made their home in Liverpool but Felix was travelling and performing in London and other towns and cities across Britain. Natale Corri, a musician and impresario based in Edinburgh, engaged Felix as a visiting soloist in subscription concerts in 1803, 1804 and 1808. A review after a London performance and also one of Corri’s adverts for his subscription series describes him as ‘the celebrated Mr Yaniewicz’.


Felix and the Philharmonic Society

In 1813, Felix Yaniewicz, Natale Corri and Muzio Clementi were three of the thirty founder members of the Philharmonic Society of London (which we now know as the Royal Philharmonic Society). This was at the time when there were no permanent orchestras and the founding music professionals decided that collaboration would be better than competition.

The Philharmonic Society of London aimed 'to promote the performance, in the most perfect manner possible of the best and most approved instrumental music'.

For centuries, musicians had been dependent on an individual patron, usually a member of the aristocracy, and their livelihood relied on being in favour. However, the founding of the Philharmonic Society meant that musicians were now organizing their own activities independently, raising musical standards and working to modernise their own profession.

On the list of names founding the society, Yaniewicz’s address is given as 49 Leicester Square which is the same address as on the piano, suggesting he lived above the shop. It may have been quite grand – one advert for concerts there in 1810 talks about ‘suitable and spacious apartments for the Nobility and Gentry who may honour him with their patronage’. This shows that the patronage system was still in operation despite the moves towards changing the musical profession.

Yaniewicz relocated to Edinburgh from Liverpool in 1815 and found his new home in Scotland.

He continued to travel and perform until his retirement in 1829 and lived in Edinburgh until his death in 1848 aged 86.


Engraved cornerstone from Great King Street, Edinburgh commemorating that Felix Yaniewicz ‘Polish Composer and Co-Founder of the First Edinburgh Festival Lived & Died Here 1823-48.
Cornerstone Inscription, Great King Street, Edinburgh

Connected to many other musicians through performing, Yaniewicz was firmly a part of musical life in Europe, and especially in Britain, during his lifetime. The folk melodies used in his compositions, and his cutlery (commissioned in 1802 and 1836) showing the motto ‘Pro Lithuania’ are both evidence for his enduring connection to his homeland. 


Silver spoon with the engraving ‘Pro Lithuania’
Pro Lithuania Silver Spoon



Anglicised: To make something not from England sound or look more English. In this case, Felix changed the spelling to the way English speakers would spell his name.)
The French Revolution
: A period of unrest and violence in France that saw major political change. The country rejected rule by its King and Queen (a monarchy) and instead started to be governed by an elected group of people (a republic).
Impresario: A person who produces (organises and finances) concerts, plays or operas.
Patron/patronage: A patron is a person of wealth who finances somebody (in this case an artist/musician) so that they are able to work for them composing and performing music.
Partition: The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth came to an end after three ‘partitions’ which separated parts of the country to be taken over by neighbouring countries/powers. In the Third Partition (1795) there was no more remaining land that belonged to Poland or Lithuania – all of the land was divided and ruled by other countries.
Quartets: Four people playing music together (or it could be four voices singing together) –often used as shorthand for a string quartet: two violins, a viola, and a cello.
Refugee: Someone who has been forced to leave their country or home because of circumstances which have made it unsafe e.g., like natural disasters, war, famine.
Tenor: Male singers with the highest range in their normal voice.