This is the story of Felix Yaniewicz – a Polish-Lithuanian migrant who played an important role in founding the first Edinburgh music festival in 1815.
Discovering Yaniewicz’s Piano
Twenty years ago, Douglas Hollick, an expert in early keyboard instruments, found a square piano in a dilapidated state in a private house in Snowdonia. This piano, over 200 years old, bore the name of Felix Yaniewicz. He set about restoring it to its former glory.
What makes a square piano interesting?
The first square pianos were made in Germany around the 1740s. Designs in England and Vienna appeared from around 1760. As the name suggests, the square piano houses the piano strings and hammers in a rectangular case that is much smaller than the long piano cases of grand pianos, or pianofortes as they were known at the time. They were the same shape as a clavichord and enabled more people to own a piano in their homes.
The size and lower cost of these instruments led to them becoming the most popular keyboard instrument of the late 18th Century.
In the 'Resources' section you will find a timeline of keyboard instruments found in Europe in the last 400 years.
The square piano, discovered and restored by Douglas Hollick, bears the name of Yaniewicz and Green and gives two addresses, one in Liverpool and the other in London.
Take a look at the restored piano below and make a list of anything you notice and any questions that come to mind about it – all observations are worth noting.
The piano is a primary source (as are most of the objects and artefacts that are presented here as images). If our overarching question is ‘Who is Felix Yaniewicz?’ then we can look at the piano and ask questions about what we can see. This helps us to piece together some information.
You might have noticed:
- the decorative design on the piano
- the shape of the piano for example, its rectangular shape, its legs
- the text on the label and the details about the addresses
- the signature and the writing inside the lid of the piano
Below is an image of a lyre guitar manufactured by Yaniewicz & Co.
What do you notice about the lyre guitar? How do you think the sound is created? How is the instrument decorated – is it carved; is it painted?
This particular instrument is known as an Apollo lyre guitar. In Ancient Greek mythology, Apollo was the god of the sun, and played the lyre. Here he appears in a burst of light in the gold decoration at the top of the instrument.
Some of Felix Yaniewicz’s story is still a mystery – his empty violin case has survived but not the valuable instruments it contained. The case is part of the collection at St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh (although not usually on display). A family inventory, written in 1925, says that Yaniewicz sold his ‘Strad’ (a Stradivarius) and he ‘raffled’ his ‘Amati’.
Can you imagine what might have happened to those violins?
Clavichord: A clavichord is a small keyboard instrument. It has strings which are struck by small pieces of metal to make the sound for each key.
Lyre guitar: A type of guitar which is shaped to look like a lyre (which is a stringed instrument that dates back to Ancient Greece).
Square piano: A square piano is a keyboard instrument in a rectangular case (like a clavichord) and with a piano mechanism which means there is a hammer that hits a string to create the notes/sound.