Recording our first CD (part 2: track order)

How to choose the order of tracks on a CD recording? First decide on a title and then find a story to tell.

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Tonight I sat in front of the two very large quad speakers and listened to the 74-minute CD.

Reception of the Monument House Utrecht with the quad speakers
Reception of the Monument House Utrecht with the quad speakers

Why did Robert choose to begin with Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Potpourri? I turned the volume down as it sounded too loud and aggressive for this time of the evening. What should be the first track on a CD? The best piece to discourage the listener from giving up too early?

Hummel’s Potpourri is a piece originally written for piano and guitar. It was written for performance in the Dukaten Concerts in Vienna. For some reason, we always feel the audience rising with us and eventually a loud applause from the exhaustion of the marathon of opera themes. Perhaps this piece should come later.

The second piece, the Polonoise (Polonaise) from Variations opus 113 (65) exists also for guitar and string quartet. Mauro Giuliani and Johann Nepomuk Hummel performed together and composed the Grand Potpourri National which we will perform in mid-April in the house of an artist. It would be an ideal occasion to release our first CD then.

We have traditionally ended our programs with Giuliani’s Polonoise because it’s so virtuosic and exciting. To hear it as a second piece on our CD seems a little strange.

The third track is the first movement of Torroba’s Sonatina. That’s very nice in the evening, after an aerobics workout, sauna, and light dinner. I began to wonder if we should begin our CD with Torroba.

Even Rodrigo’s Fantasia para Gentilhombre is nice to listen to — in the evening.

Our sound engineer, who recorded our concert in a monastic church in Warmond in late 2008, had said that the third track is usually the best piece, the one you want others to listen to. If that’s the case, then the third movement of Torroba’s Sonatina works well.

We don’t have a title for this CD. Somehow “Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo” is not enough for a title.

How about choosing a title and then the order of the tracks?

For example, “Mediterranean Summer Potpourri” would allow us to order the tracks like a story. Imagine a voyage on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

We started in Madrid last spring, our debut concert in Spain. It makes sense to introduce the CD with works of two Spanish composers: Torroba and Rodrigo. Then we sail east on the Mediterranean to Italy. It’s summer by now, and we play our own arrangement of Vivaldi’s Summer from the Four Seasons. Mauro Giuliani left Italy for Vienna where he met the great concert pianist Hummel. Writing and playing potpourris was a favourite pastime in the 19th century. Incidentally, in his lifetime Hummel was more famous than his teacher — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

I propose a new order for the CD as told by the story above. Robert will need to revisit with our sound engineer. This may delay the CD production. But at least we will have a title.

Mediterranean Summer Potpourri

14 tracks

Rodrigo Fantasia para Gentilhombre:

  1. Villano y Ricercare
  2. Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles
  3. Danza de las Hachas
  4. Canario

Torroba: Sonatina

  1. Allegretto
  2. Andante
  3. Allegro

Vivaldi: Summer from the Four Seasons

  1. Allegro non molto
  2. Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
  3. Presto

Giuliani: Polonoise from Variationen op. 113 (65)

Hummel: Potpourri on famous opera themes

Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (LIVE)

  1. Allegro
  2. Romanza

Reviving the Grand Potpourri National

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. We invited the musicologist and composer Rolf Straver to research and introduce it at our next house concert of 17th April 2010.

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).

Grand Potpourri National piano octaves
Grand Potpourri National piano octaves

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

  1. What do the texts on the cover of the score mean? (below)
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. Has this work ever been recorded?
  5. How did the two musicians compose this piece? Was this common practice, i.e. to collaborate on a composition?
  6. What are the names of the other national anthems?
Grand Potpourri National sheet music cover
Grand Potpourri National sheet music cover

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.

Grand Potpourri National guitar part
Grand Potpourri National guitar part

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.