Johann Kaspar Mertz, classical music composer

Johann Kaspar Mertz


Johann Kaspar Mertz (Hungarian: János Gáspár Mertz, August 17, 1806 - October 14, 1856) was a Hungarian guitarist and composer.

J. K. Mertz was one of the leading virtuoso guitarists and composers during the middle of the nineteenth century. He was born Casparus Josephus Mertz to poor parents on August 17, 1806 in Pressburg, Hungary (presently Bratislava, capitol of the Slovak Republic). He began to play the guitar and flute as a youth and was compelled to give music lessons at an early age. The earliest record of his activity as a concert artist is from 1834 when Mertz performed in a Pressburg concert organized by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, himself a native of that city. Mertz left his birthplace ca. 1840. He appeared in a concert at the Hofburgtheater in Vienna in November 1840 under the patronage of the Empress Carolina Augusta. The success of this concert introduced Mertz to the Viennese social, political, and artistic elite. Attesting to his early Viennese triumphs, guitar music by Mertz was first published during this same period by the prestigious Haslinger publishing house of Vienna. Mertz embarked on a concert tour in 1841, performing in Austria, Poland, and Russia. In Dresden in 1842, he met the pianist Josephine Plantin who was herself on a concert tour. They were married on December 14 of that year in Prague. The couple returned to Vienna where they were both active as teachers, composers, and concert artists, often performing duets of their own composition for guitar and piano. Among the students of Mertz at this time was Johann Dubez (1828-1891). Mertz was diagnosed with neuralgia in 1846, for which he was prescribed strychnine. Having no familiarity with the drug, Josephine dispensed the entire prescription in one dose and predictably the guitarist's health weakened. After nearly 18 months of convalescence Mertz regained his health and resumed his concert career in February 1848. The composer was apparently able to continue preparing material for publication during his illness. In 1846 and 1847 Haslinger published the first 10 Hefte of his Bardenklänge, Op. 13, the Schule für die Guitarre, Opern-Revue, Op. 8, Nos. 10-19, and VI Ländler, Op. 12. The Russian nobleman and guitarist Nikolai Petrovich Makaroff (1810-1890) first met J. K. Mertz in Vienna in 1851. Makaroff provided a brief description of the composer's countenance in his memoirs: "Mertz was a tall man, about 50, neither fat nor thin, very modest and with no hint of a pretense to greatness about him." Makaroff later added: "What touched me most about him, was his remarkable modesty. He did not seem to be conscious of the wonderful quality of the music he composed or of the extent of his own talent." Josephine Mertz recounted that during one of their concert tours in 1855, a customs official suspected Mertz of selling music supplies, because he was traveling with two guitars and a substantial quantity of strings. Mertz explained to the official that he had devised a new method with which he played the strings with the fingernails and that they provide a superior tone but at the same time cause the strings to deteriorate quickly. Taken literally, this report provides evidence that Mertz at this time preferred the use of nails, a topic that was debated among guitarists throughout the nineteenth century. Concerning the need for two guitars, it is probable that one was a terz guitar for duets with piano and the other was a 10-string guitar for solo music. Mertz and his wife participated in several concerts in Salzburg during the summer of 1855. One of these was attended by King Ludwig  of Bavaria, who was astonished by Mertz's 10-string guitar. Suffering from heart disease and general frail health, Mertz passed away on October 14, 1856, shortly after returning to Vienna from a concert tour. In a guitar composition and construction competition that was held in 1856 in Brussels and organized by Nikolai Makaroff, Mertz was posthumously awarded first prize for his Concertino. According to Josephine Mertz, this was the composer's last work.The award of 800 francs was sent to Josephine Mertz, who remained in Vienna until her death August 5, 1903 at the age of 84.

J. K. Mertz was a prolific composer for solo guitar, guitar duo, and (often composed in collaboration with his wife) guitar and piano duo. He also wrote works for voice and guitar (or piano) and a trio for violin (or flute), viola, and guitar, as well as several works for kindred instruments to the guitar, the zither and mandolin. Mertz's publishers in addition to Haslinger included Hoffmann (Prague), Aibl (Munich), and Ricordi (Milan). His opus numbers reach 100, although many works with opus numbers are missing, and there are numerous works without opus number. Responding to musical trends prevalent in Europe during the mid-nineteenth century, the compositions of Mertz depart from the traditional forms preferred by earlier guitar composers. The influence of piano music by Mendelssohn, Chopin, and early Liszt, as well as a diversity of opera composers and idioms, all inform the music of Mertz. His concert works and operatic fantasies are expansive and rhapsodic, and his miniatures are poetic and descriptive. The dance forms of Mertz, primarily Ländler, waltzes, polonaises, mazurkas, and Hungarian dances, exemplify a more traditional formal treatment, usually a binary form and often with a minuet-trio format. Hallmarks of Mertz's musical style include a thorough use of accompaniment textures with rapid, perpetual arpeggio figures. In fact, Mertz seems to allow these textures to take precedence over the independence of the melody. The textures are nearly always arpeggio or tremolo based, demonstrating an endless array of possibilities. His harmonic language includes frequent diminished chords (often the common-tone diminished chords prevalent in mid-nineteenth-century music), extended dominant harmonies, borrowed chords, customary use of the Neapolitan sixth chord in minor keys, and unexpected modulations.

Composer Title Date Action
Johann Kaspar Mertz Fingal's Cave. Concert overture op.13, №5 02/23/2011 Play Add to playlist