Violinist and composer Felice Giardini was born in Turin on 12 April 1716, the son of a French musician named Jardin. He studied violin in Turin with Giovanni Battista Somis, a pupil of Arcangelo Corelli. Having made his name in Italy, he embarked on a concert tour of Europe as a soloist and arrived in England around 1750, possibly at the invitation of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
His first public performance in London, a benefit for Francesca Cuzzoni on 27 April 1751, established his reputation. His presence continued the influence of the Corellian style of playing which was characterised by refined performance rather than virtuosic display. He enjoyed the patronage of Caroline Russell, Duchess of Marlborough, who was one of his pupils. From the mid-1750s he concentrated mainly on opera and oratorio, leading the orchestra of the Italian Opera at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket. He also ran concerts at the Foundling Hospital (including performances of the Messiah), where he was a governor.
Giardini sold music and instruments from his Italian Musick Warehouse in the Haymarket, near Panton Street, from 1767 until 1769, in partnership with the cellist Emanuel Siprutini. Thomas Gainsborough, a competent violin player himself, was a friend of Giardini. He painted his portrait which, in 1778, was bought by John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. His dominating position in London’s musical world was threatened with the arrival of Wilhelm Cramer in 1773. Facing a powerful young rival he virtually withdrew from performing in public.
In 1784, he returned to Naples in a failed attempt to run a theatre. He was back in England by the early 1790s, but his name was largely forgotten. His last known London appearance took place in May 1792, after which he travelled to Russia where he gave a number of concerts in St Petersburg and Moscow. There he died in poverty in June 1796.