By Mascha van Nieuwkerk

Within my CREATE project on Felix Meritis Programmes, research questions and the development of tools and data collections are in constant interaction. For a collection of cultural musicological essays on authenticity, developed in the UvA Master course Cultural Musicology, I investigated the position of the popular 18th-century Potpourri genre in mid-nineteenth century Dutch music journalism, and the implicit notions of authenticity present in the musical discourse on this genre. Please feel free to read the whole article on my website:

In the early nineteenth century, European musical life underwent a fundamental transformation in values, practices, repertoires and institutions. The expansion of musical life in that period brought about new musical, ideological and commercial developments that would gradually change the structures of the European musical industries. As William Weber has shown in his magnum opus The transformation of musical taste, music critics from all over Europe tried to structure this changing world with an enthusiastic musical idealism, creating a new hierarchy of musical genres. In this process a separation was made between the ‘new’ complex instrumental genres such as chamber music and symphonies and the ‘old-fashioned’ popular genres that originated in the tradition of songs and operas.[1] The potpourri, pieces that we would now call ‘medleys’ of popular melodies, ended up at the bottom of this musical ladder. While these pieces were meant to be programmed as a lighter intermezzo in between more ‘serious’ pieces, they were gradually marginalized during the nineteenth century as a part of the frivolous ‘popular’ concert series. In the ideological battles over the formation of a new, more homogeneous programming tradition, the musical tradition of the potpourri genre had lost.

In this case study I trace the ideological backgrounds of the extinction of the potpourri genre in Romantic thought and analyses the perceptions of the genre that existed in Dutch musical criticism between 1844 and 1864. The article demonstrates that Dutch criticism of the potpourri was grounded in a concept of authenticity in which creativity and originality was more important than the continuation of a genre tradition. Interestingly enough, in practice, tradition was still controlling concert programming: the potpourri genre only disappeared from the programmes of serious concerts in the late 1870s.

[1] William Weber, The Great Transformation of Musical Taste (Cambridge 2008) 85.