Jan Stefani (ca. 1746-1829) was born in Prague. He started his musical education in his hometown, but probably continued his study in Italy. Around 1765 he became a military bandmaster of Count Kinsky in Vienna and violinist of the court orchestra of Emperor Joseph II.
In 1779 Stefani arrived with a group of musicians to Warsaw, where he joined King Stanislaw August Poniatowski’s newly formed nine-person instrumental band which developed over the next two years into a fully-fledged Royal Court Orchestra, with Stefani playing in the first violin group. He most probably stayed with the orchestra until its disbandment in 1795 when Poland lost its independence and territorial integrity to Russia, Prussia, and Austria in the Third Partition. When the National Theatre, established by the king – arts lover and advocate of public access to culture – in 1965 and closed after the Third Partition, reopened in 1799, Stefani became its first violinist.
Stefani had shot to fame thanks to the opera Cud mniemany, czyli Krakowiacy i Górale (The Supposed Miracle, or the Cracovians and the Highlanders) written to a libretto by the founder of Polish theatre, Wojciech Bogusławski. Staged in 1794, the opera is considered to be the first work of Polish nationalist art. At the time of its premiere, which preceeded the outburst of the Kościuszko Uprising against Russia and Prussia by only a few weeks, the opera was seen as a metaphor of Polish-Russian relations. The partitioning powers’ fierce reaction to the premiere forced Wojciech Bogusławski to flee into exile. Jan Stefani died in Warsaw and is buried in the Powązki cemetery.