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J.K. Mertz, 1806-1856: Guitar Duets

Raphaella Smits - guitar
Adrien Brogna - guitar

Label: Soundset Recordings

The outstanding guitar duo RAPHAELLA SMITS - ADRIEN BROGNA is a unique combination : an established name in the music world who has earned her spurs worldwide as a concertist, and a young virtuoso who seems to be the reincarnation of an old master when he touches the guitar. The duo is admired for its perfect combination and unmatched musicality. Here, they present their first duo CD with music by Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856).


They both play on 8 string romantic guitars and terz guitars. Their performance breathes authenticity, love and respect for music.


"An absolutely marvelous performance presented with high precision and subtle poetry"

Bernhard Kresse, luthier.


“An unforgettable concert, total symbiosis. First class!”

Guy De Mey, tenor.


"Mon meilleur disque de guitare depuis longtemps"

Anselmus Albini Alumnus.





Johann Kaspar MERTZ (1806-1856)

During the first decades of the 19th century Vienna was the world capital of music as well as a metropolis of the guitar. An excellent infrastructure with major music publishers (Diabelli, Artaria, Haslinger) and renowned instrument makers (including Johann Georg Stauffer and his son Johann Anton, Bernard Enzensperger, and Martin Stoss) attracted numerous musicians from the Habsburg crown lands, also from Italy (including the famous Mauro Giuliani and Luigi Legnani) to Vienna. The domesticity of the Biedermeier period was an ideal environment for the bourgeois music culture.

In 1840, when JK Mertz (baptized Casparus Josephus Mertz, 1806-1856) arrived in Vienna coming from Pressburg (Bratislava), the Viennese guitar culture had already surpassed its peak. During the year of revolution, 1848, there were hardly any more concerts. Anton Stauffer closed his business and went to Prague. Mertz and his wife (the pianist Josephine Plantin) rarely ventured out, sat at home and composed waltzes. In order to avoid military service - this would have further affected his health already severely impaired by a previously suffered strychnine poisoning - he fled to Brno and did not return until four weeks after the political situation had improved. An important source of income - private lessons mainly in aristocratic circles - had almost dried up after the revolution of 1848.

In this time of crisis he created his guitar duets (‘Ich denke dein’ is dated May 28, 1850) and other chamber music works. Previously Mertz had only composed solo pieces and published only the easiest and the medium difficult ones (‘Bardenklänge’, ‘Ländler’, ‘Opernrevue’). The big concert pieces for eight and ten string guitar like \'Harmonie du Soir’, ‘Pensée fugitive\' and \'Elegy\' exist only in manuscript, just as the duets. To Nikolai Petrovich Makarov (1810-1890), a wealthy Russian virtuoso who had visited all the prominent guitarists of his time in 1850, Mertz explained this fact as follows: \"... as long as these compositions remain in my briefcase, they remain new; and are mine for my own concerts they would become distorted and mutilated by those miserable guitarists who can only scratch the strings of the guitar.\" (from Guitar Review 1947).

There is no evidence of public performances of the duets, they might have been written for educational purposes.
According to Makarov the compositions of J. K. Mertz have \"rich composition, great musical knowledge, excellent development of an idea, unity, novelty, grandeur of style, absence of trivial expression and multiplicity of harmonic effects“.

Apart from a few works by Napoleon Coste and Giulio Regondi, Mertz \'music is the only truly romantic in the 19th century guitar repertory. Most guitar composers were very conservative in terms of style. Thanks to his wife Mertz was well acquainted with the contemporary piano literature (Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin) and also musically influenced by it.

In the guitar duos this influence is mainly reflected in expressive tone paintings, such as the death bells in ‘Am Grabe der Geliebten’ or the gentle swell of water in ‘Wasserfahrt am Traunsee’. Caused by the different registers of terz guitar and standard tuning the roles of melody and accompaniment merge into a totally new sound pattern.

The terz guitar is an instrument with a shorter scale length (55-57 cm), tuned G c f b d\' g\', and plays a major role in the Viennese chamber music with guitar, comparable to the first violin in string ensembles. The capo on the third fret is often mentioned already around 1810 by Leonard de Call, Anton Diabelli and Mauro Giuliani, but after 1815 “Terzguitarre” becomes a generally used term. Obviously a guitar in this pitch and tonality was the best choice in combination with flute, piano and string instruments, so that one of the above guitarists or luthiers came up with the idea to build guitars in this pitch. The earliest known terz guitars, both from 1814, were made by Johann Rudert and Jakob Krasny (Stauffer did not date his instruments in this period). Giuliani wrote his third guitar concerto (op. 70) for terz guitar and later he adopted also the second (op. 36). In most guitar duets of Viennese origin the first part is performed by a terz guitar.

The instruments on the CD

* Terz guitar (Bernard Enzensperger, Vienna, 1850, Collection Brigitte Zaczek):
Bernard Enzensperger (1788-1865) comes from Füssen, a small town in Southern Germany, a metropolis of lute making since the 16th century. He was a student of Georg Thir and apprentice of Georg Stauffer in Vienna. With his perfectly shaped and sonorous superior instruments and with his innovations such as the shield-shaped “Akustik-Guitarre “ with tags for finding the harmonics, Enzensperger noticeably stepped out of the shadow of Stauffer and became one of the main instrument builders of his time.

* Guitar Mirecourt (Anonymous, 1827, restored by Bernhard Kresse, Collection Raphaella Smits):
Mirecourt was the center of the French instrument making in the 19th century. Masters such as Charles Joseph Marchal, François Roudhloff and Bruno Petitjean, produced guitars in their workshops, always consistent in quantity and quality. This original six-string guitar was later converted for seven or eight strings as required by the music of Coste, Mertz and Legnani.

* Terz guitar (labeled \"k.k.l.p. Musik-Instrumenten-Fabriks-Niederlage des Franz Hoyer in Wien\", 1840, Collection Alex Timmerman):
The Bohemian Egerland (the trading company Hoyer comes from Schönbach) and the adjacent German Vogtland were centers of musical instrument manufactury similar to Mirecourt in France. The instruments made there were rarely signed and usually bore the label of the merchant. The “Wiener Modell” (such as this instrument in Stauffer style) was produced well into the 20th century.

* Eight-string guitar by Bernhard Kresse (Cologne, 2010):
The guitar is inspired by Stauffer’s Legnani model, extended with two free-floating bass strings. By 1840, the musical newspaper ‘Allgemeine Wiener Musik Zeitung’ reported of a new model with eight strings that Stauffer had built for Luigi Legnani and Giulio Regondi. Also Mertz played such a guitar, as shown in a concert report from Brno, September 23, 1841.


* Hackl, Stefan: Die Gitarre in Osterreich. Studienverlag, Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen 2011.

* Hofmann, Erik Pierre, Hackl, Stefan und Mougin, Pascal: Stauffer & Co. Die Wiener Gitarre des 19. Jahrhunderts. Editions Les Robins, Germolles sur Grosne 2012.

* Makarov, Nikolai Petrovich: Zadushevnaia Ispo’ved; (Heartfelt Confession), St. Petersburgh 1859. Translation: Vladimir Bobri and Nura Ulreich, Guitar Review no. 3 (1947).

* Stempnik, Astrid: Caspar Joseph Mertz: Leben und Werk des letzten Gitarristen im osterreichischen Biedermeier: Eine Studie über den Niedergang der Gitarre in Wien um 1850. Peter Lang, Frankfurt/Bern/New York/Paris 1990.

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