Felix Yaniewicz, who arrived in Britain as a refugee from the French Revolution, would go on to launch Edinburgh’s first music festival after settling in the city more than 200 years ago.
Now his remarkable life story is to be fully told for the first time with a major exhibition in his adopted city, accompanied by a new series of musical events programmed in his honour.
The Polish-Lithuanian musician’s previously unheralded contribution to Scottish culture will be celebrated at the Georgian House in the New Town, close to his former home on Great King Street, where a modest plaque recalls how he co-founded the week-long Edinburgh Music Festival in the autumn of 1815.
Musical instruments, portraits, letters, manuscripts, autographs, and silver and gold personal possessions passed down the generations of his surviving family will be going on display, most of them for the first time.
The four-month exhibition is the culmination of a campaign and research project by his descendants to raise awareness of Yaniewicz in Edinburgh, after they successfully secured a rare square piano he had signed.
The piano was put up for sale around 20 years after being discovered in a dilapidated condition in a private house in Snowdonia, in Wales.
The instrument will be the centrepiece of the coming exhibition, which opens at the National Trust for Scotland’s Georgian House on June 25, and is being backed by Poland’s Ministry of Culture and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute arts organisation.
Josie Dixon, Yaniewicz’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter, has curated the exhibition after forming the Friends of Felix Yaniewicz organisation. It ran a crowdfunding campaign with the Scottish Polish Cultural Association to ensure the 1810 piano bearing his signature did not fall into the hands of a private collector and could be kept in Edinburgh.
A series of talks, performances and recitals will explore the musical legacy of Yaniewicz, who is largely unknown outside Poland, as well as the role migration played in shaping the cultural life of Georgian Edinburgh.
Ms Dixon said: “He rose to prominence as a performer in the Polish Royal chapel. King Stanislaus August Poniatowski, a great patron of the arts, paid for him to travel to Vienna, where he encountered Haydn and Mozart.
“Mozart’s 19th-century biographer Otto Jahn speculates that his lost Andante in A major K470 written at this time may have been composed for Yaniewicz.”
Among the memorabilia on display will be a first edition of "An Account of the First Edinburgh Music Festival”, by one of its secretaries, George Farquhar Graham.
Ms Dixon added: “Farquhar Graham’s account gives an evocative insight into the atmosphere and excitement surrounding the festival.
“It presents the festival as a turning point in Scottish musical taste, moving away from national folk culture towards the classical, continental tradition Yaniewicz represented, trailing clouds of musical glory from his encounters with Haydn and Mozart in Vienna.”
Barbara Schabowska, director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, said: “The figure of Felix Yaniewicz is a perfect example of how remarkably universal the language of music is.
“The exhibition, celebrating his fascinating travel-filled life, is a chance to initiate transnational dialogue – not only between Scotland and Poland, but also with everybody who finds themselves moved by Yaniewicz’s music.”