If you google “Giuliani and friends” you get the Mayor of New York, not the guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani who was a friend of Beethoven and whose music is being revived by Braintree pianist Ellyses Kuan and Newton guitarist Robert Bekkers in Massachusetts.
When Robert first shared with me the his idea of a concert called “Giuliani’s Friends” I didn’t understand what was so special. Only when I saw the subsequent video preview, newspaper clippings, web mentions, and comments on Facebook did I begin to see what his concept was.
Giuliani was friends with pianist Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ludwig Van Beethoven. Today in my “Introduction to Music Literature Class” I spoke about Hummel being one of the most famous piano virtuosi of his day and reputedly the most expensive piano teacher. “But he is not so well known today,” I said. “Not when compared to Beethoven. Why?” We have an entire chapter devoted to Beethoven but Hummel and Giuliani were not mentioned at all. The answer was that Beethoven was innovative — he pushed the frontiers and beyond it. Hummel and Giuliani may be virtuosic performers and adept composers, they did not extend the boundary of classical music like Beethoven did.
This is not to say that Mauro Giuliani did not compose good music or that he was not an interesting person. He was charismatic and much loved. He attracted the ladies — and that’s one reason Beethoven looked forward to seeing him, even calling him “the divine Giuliani.”
I don’t have any proof of this, but this was the kind of conversation Robert and I would have when we were practising Giuliani/Hummel’s Grand Potpourri National in Utrecht. It was a very long and demanding piece that we weren’t sure would sit well with our audiences. Could they sit through 30 minutes of music?
Much to our surprise, the piece de resistance became one of the most sought-after works we had ever played. It’s like telling a story and solving a riddle. Each one is a national anthem but you have to guess the country. There are recognizable motifs, solo cadenzas, and interesting transitions between anthems. I am curious if Robert and Ellyses have identified all the countries in the potpourri. Some of them obviously no longer exist today.
A title like “Giuliani’s Friends” or “Giuliani and Friends” can easily encompass any variety of programs: Giuliani, Hummel and Beethoven; Giuliani, Schubert, Beethoven art songs; Giuliani, Beethoven, Rossini; and any combination of instruments: guitar, piano; guitar, cello; guitar, piano, cello. Did Giuliani, Hummel and Beethoven ever play together? If they did, it would have probably been a trio of guitar, piano, and cello respectively.
Here is a clip of the performers practising the final movement of the Potpourri. Watch the interaction between the instruments and the demanding octaval scale passages of the right hand of the pianist.
Bekkers and Kuan will give the “Giuliani’s Friends” concert thrice in October in Massachusetts:
- Saturday 19 October 2013 @ 7 pm EDT
Trinitarian Congregational Church, Concord, MA
- Saturday 26 October 2013 @ 4 pm EDT
James Library and the Center for the Arts, Norwell, MA
- Sunday 27 October 2013 @ 7 pm EDT
South Shore Conservatory, Hingham, MA
Sadly, I will only be there in spirit, 6 hours away on the tropical island of Maui. Perhaps one day Giuliani and his Friends will come to Hawaii.