Potjes, Eduard

Nijmegen (NL), 13/08/1860 > Seattle, WA (US), 12/01/1931


Potjes, Eduard

by Annelies Focquaert

Eduard (or Edouard / Edward) Potjes was born in Nijmegen on 13 August 1860, descending from Dutch parents. Though some sources claim he descended in 1868 from Belgian parents, his family insist this information is incorrect.

Already as a child Eduard revealed his musical talents. In fact he was the offspring of a very musical family, his father playing the piano and the violin, while his uncle Hendrik Potjes from Boxmeer, a well-known master-goldsmith, was also reputed to be a good amateur-pianist. Eduard received his first piano lessons from P. Van Merkestein in the boarding school of Rolduc, where he pursued his gymnasium, followed by harmony and counterpoint classes given by Grégoire Van Dyck in Boxmeer. Between September 1878 and March 1880 he was in Utrecht with a view to becoming proficient in piano and composition under the guidance of Richard Hol. In the fall of 1880 he sat for an entrance exam for the composition class of Ferdinand Hiller at the Conservatory of Cologne, where he also took piano classes with Jacob Kwast.

After his studies he settled down in Antwerp as a music teacher. In 1885 he was advised by Liszt - with whom Potjes had been able to follow some classes - to apply for the position of piano teacher at the Pädagogium in Strasbourg. Potjes was appointed, but turned out to be a 'wandering soul': he stayed in Strasbourg only for a short time, undertaking a tour to the Netherlands, then again settling in Antwerp and from there leaving for concert tours through England and France. In 1893 his rambling years provisionally took an end as he was appointed to be a piano teacher of the virtuoso class in the Conservatory of Ghent. Yet concurrently he remained active as a travelling piano virtuoso. Thus in January 1897 he played a great concert in the Salle Pleyel in Paris with works by Bach, Liszt, Chopin and Rachmaninov.

Bergmans' biography of Potjes ends around 1900 and from then on it is hard to trace him. In addition to his pedagogical activities, Potjes appeared to be active mainly as an opera composer, as on 23 March 1903 in the 'Grand Théâtre' of Ghent the première of Potjes' opera Ariane (opus 3, libretto by Charles Duprez) took place. On 31 October 1912 the opera Lorenzo Murano was created in Antwerp (equally classified under opus 3, libretto of Gustave Toudouze). Most likely none of these works were successful, since Le guide musical neither mentions nor reviews these premières (though The Musical Times did indeed make reference to the première of Lorenzo Murano as 'successfully produced'). Subsequently, Potjes disappears into thin air. According to Roquet he retired as a piano teacher at the Ghent Conservatory in 1919 and died in Seattle (Washington, USA) on 12 January 1931.

The website of Washington University probably gives a clue. The library of this institute actually owns a fund called 'The Edouard Potjes Papers'. The companion Preliminary Guide to the Edouard Potjes Papers shows that in 1887 Potjes graduated at the "University of Belgium" (presumably the Free University of Brussels), without specifying the nature of his studies. In 1917 he migrated to the USA as a war refugee after having resigned in Belgium as a piano teacher. He settled down in Seattle (Washington) in 1922, becoming an American citizen in 1924. In Europe he continued to give concert tours indeed. For a year he was piano teacher at the Cornish School of Music in Seattle, upon which he kept devoting himself to private teaching and composition.

That Potjes arrived in America in 1917 is proven by a newspaper cutting from the archives of the New York Times. On 2 June of that year the survey of the church services actually announced : Church Services tomorrow. [...] Presbyterian. Fort Washington, Broadway at 174th Street. [...] Rev. Walter H. Semple preaches 8 P.M. - Special musical service, with Monsieur Edouard Potjes at the piano. This might possibly have been his first activity on American territory after his arrival in New York.

Other schools where Potjes was teaching were the Somer High School, Somerville (Massachusetts) and the Ward-Belmont-school in Nashville (Tennessee). In the periodical Milestones, the yearbook of Ward-Belmont, Potjes is cited for the years 1918 and 1919 as 'Director School of Piano', and the accompanying background information reads as follows: "Graduate Cologne Conservatory of Music; Pupil of Ferdinand Hiller and Franz Liszt; formerly Teacher of Piano, Conservatory of Music, Strassburg; recently Director Piano Department and Professor of Virtuoso Piano, Royal Conservatory of Music, Ghent, Belgium."

In the documents Potjes left behind as registered in 'The Edouard Potjes Papers' there is information about Potjes' education before coming to the USA. The Musical Courier of 21 June 1917 states: "Mr. Potjes commenced his studies in (?) at the Conservatory in Cologne, where he enjoyed the instruction of Ferdinand Hiller. His studies there finished, Potjes went to Antwerp, where he became acquainted with Franz Liszt. Having played several times before the great master, Liszt offered to hear Potjes play his whole repertoire, and to give him lessons. Thus he followed Liszt, and was almost his last pupil, as the illustrious man died a year afterward."

Concert programmes of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) from a later period relate another story, which is probably somewhat farther removed from the truth. In 1928-1929 we read: "His early education was received at private schools, at the Latin School in Holland, and later he attended the University of Belgium. His musical training was received from Hans von Bulow, Brassin and Gavert, of the Royal Conservatory at Brussels. He had the privilege, when a boy of fifteen, to take a series of lessons under that greatest of all teachers, the immortal Liszt, just a few months preceding Liszt's death." [Liszt died in 1886].

The working list given by Bergmans runs up to 1901 inclusive and mainly contains works for piano: a sonata, fantasies and diverse genre pieces, some of which refer to Liszt's style (Quatre consolations, Fantaisie hongroise Czardas). Bergmans further mentions songs on German texts, a mass, a Sonate for piano and violin and a piano quintet. After the turn of the century Potjes in addition composed the operas Ariane and Lorenzo Murano, a comedy Het spookt (Haunted) and a lyrical drama Le coffret de Salomé (Salome's Casket). The preliminary inventory of his documents left behind in the University of Washington contains a symphony and the manuscript of a symphonic work named At Dawn - Eastermorning (circa 1931).

© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Annelies Focquaert (translation: Jo Sneppe)
With thanks to Frans van Pallander (South Africa).