A few years ago we came across the sheet music for the Grand Potpourri National originally written for piano and guitar in 1818. It was a joint collaboration between the great virtuosos of the day: pianist Johann Nepomuk Hummel and guitarist Mauro Giuliani.
A student of Mozart, Hummel was perhaps the most expensive piano teacher at the time, with students such as Mendelssohn and Heller. Hummel toured as a concert pianist and was even more famous than Mozart. Giuliani swept Vienna off its feet when he arrived from Italy. He befriended Beethoven. That circle of composer/performer musicians played in the Dukaten Concert Series in Vienna.
The Grand Potpourri National is not a short piece — requiring nearly 30 minutes of playtime. Just the piano score alone spans 31 pages! It is full of virtuosic passages such as the double octaves in the piano part (below).
When we first discovered the sheet music online, we didn’t understand why anyone would want to hear the national anthems in 1818. For one, we only recognised three. Second, the piece was so long that it would take ages just to learn it. We abandoned it in favour of the shorter Potpourri on famous opera themes by Hummel which took just 10 minutes (and have recorded it in our first CD).
Last year we took a second look at the Grand Potpourri National. Upon closer inspection we noticed that it was extremely interesting to play and “gripping” to listen to.
We invited the musicologist and composer Rolf Straver to research it for us. We had many questions, such as
- What do the texts on the cover of the score mean? (below)
- What were the Dukaten Concerts at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna? The entry ticket was one ducat for a series of 6 concerts. How much is that worth today? Was it open to everyone?
- On which occasion was the Grand Potpourri National performed? Since it was a medley of national anthems, could it have been a concert for diplomats and ambassadors?
- Has this work ever been recorded?
- How did the two musicians compose this piece? Was this common practice, i.e. to collaborate on a composition?
- What are the names of the other national anthems?
Rolf visited us the evening of Friday 12th March 2010. We played the piece for him and asked for feedback. Was it interesting? “Yes!” he replied. He was not bored for a single second. The transitions from piece to piece via modulations and cadenzas were very exciting.
As a guitarist, he observed that the guitar part was extremely difficult. Instead of using a “terz guitar” which is smaller than normal guitars, the guitarist uses a capo on the third fret. There are many high notes which require playing on the body of the guitar — not an easy task.
Rolf also noticed that the dynamics were written for the softer instruments of the early 19th century. The grand piano is much louder today. I get the hint. Crank down the dynamics for the piano a notch or two.
The next day when we were preparing for a test recording, Robert started playing the last movement of the potpourri. I don’t know the name of this anthem. But it sounds and feels like a theme from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.” And that’s what I call it.
Rolf Straver will research and introduce this work at our next house concert in Utrecht on 17th April 2010. Hopefully the mystery of the remaining anthems will be revealed.