Romantic Era: Johann Kaspar Mertz

Johann Kaspar Mertz

János Gáspár Mertz, Johann Kaspar in German, was born in 1806 in Bratislava in the then Austria-Hungary in a very poor family. At a young age he learnt himself to play flute and guitar and gave music lessons to supplement the poor family income. Gradually his guitar playing drew the attention of the audiences until he gained access to the Viennese cultural elite after a successful convert in 1840.

He wanted to extend his success with a grand tour that brought him in Austria, Poland and Russia, quite an endeavour in those days. On this tour he met his later wife, the pianist Josephine Plantin. They got married, managed a music school in Vienna and performed together. The piano music that Mertz heard his wife play would clearly influence Mertz’ style of composition, that is quite pianistic indeed.

Mertz often suffered from neuralgia. In those days strychnia was used to treat the effects of neuralgia even though it was poisonous indeed! The treatment almost cost Mertz his life when his wife by accident gave him an overdose because the doctor had not instructed her properly. His recovery from the poisoning took about one and a half year, the time in which he composed the major part of his repertoire.

In the last part of his life, Mertz toured regularly with his guitar. At one of the concerts he met the Russian officer Nicolai Petrovich Makaroff who became one of his great admirers and described Mertz’ qualities extensively in his memoirs. Makaroff made an attempt to bring the guitar that suffered from a decline in interest under the attention of the audiences again. He organised an international guitar competition conquest. Mertz won the prize but died in 1856 before he was able to receive it. The money went to his widow, who could use some funds, widow’s benefits were non-existent in those days.

Mertz was a very productive composer with 100 opus numbers and a large number of non-categorised works, amongst them the Musikalische Rundschau that accomodates the opera arrangements in this book. Striking in his work is the balance between virtuosity and lyricism, and the mostly pianistic accompaniment patterns.