Who Was Joseph Kaspar Mertz? | Classical Guitar Masters

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Joseph Kaspar Mertz (mentioned by most with Johann Kaspar Mertz because of a mistake made by the German based guitar journal “Der Guitarrefreund”, that though that the J.K. letters used for signing his operas were the short version of Johann instead of Joseph) definitely was one of the most influential guitarists of the Romantic period, that composed pieces both praised by critics and feared by guitar students because of the virtuosic style present in almost any of his own compositions.

In this article we’ll talk about his life, style and most famous guitar pieces.


J.K. Mertz definitely was a musician ahead of his time, and the many challenges he had to take in his life didn’t stop his respected career and his huge fame back in his own days.

He was born in the year 1806 in the city of Pressburg (the modern city of Bratislava in Slovakia, at his time capital of the Kingdom of Hungary and also a part of the Austrian Empire), and we don’t have many informations about his formation and life: his fame and recognition mainly started when he started his career in Vienna (from 1840 to 1856).

Here, in 1842, he also met and married his wife, the young pianist Josephine Plantin and together they settled up permanently in Vienna, that was one of the main cities concerning classical music people and also was home to other famous classical guitarists and composers such as Mauro Giuliani and Anton Diabelli.

Here, Mertz gained a lot of recognition as a very skilled concert guitarist and for this reason in a very quick time his concerts had a very high demand, also touring in other cities such as Berlin and the city of Dresden in Germany, in the city of Moravia, in several cities through Poland and even in some cities in Russia.

Despite all this early fame, though, the journey and career of Mertz also had several big challenges and complications: he was suffering of neuralgia and had an overdose of the medication that he was taking for this illness, the strychnine, but after a period of rest and helped by his wife he recovered and returned to composing and performing again.

Another big complication was also the Hungarian revolution of the year 1848, that brought even more problems because several of his students and pupils as well as the majority of his public ran away, leaving him with a unstable income, but despite having some problematic years with his finances he was performing with his wife for the Imperial Family in the city of Salzburg, marking his career with a huge reputation boost and recognition.

His last big success was in the year 1856, when Johann Kaspar Mertz won a guitar competition in Brussels, Belgium, with his famous composition callled “Concertino per Chitarra sola”, winning on his fellow competitor and guitarist Napoleon Coste, that was competing with his classical piece called “Great Serenade opus 30”.

In the same days of the competition, though, and after a few days after performing his own composition, Mertz sadly passed away suddenly, not managing to hear the news about another great triumph.


The Romantic-style compositions of Mertz were heavily influenced by other piano composers: despite most of her contemporary guitar composers were mainly following and being inspired by the two pianists Mozard and Haydn (inspirations in the music of Fernando Sor) or the “bel canto” style brough to popularity by Rossini (Giuliani often took inspiration from Rossini), he was mainly following inspirations from Schuber and Schuman, the German composer Felix Mendellsohn, Frederich Chopin and his “neighbour” Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.


The list of the compositions is quite long, as he was a very prolific composer, but some of his most famous works and compositions are the following:

1 – “Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Tunes” – Another very well know composition inspired by some traditional dances from Hungaria and in general from Hungarian folk songs and local music. The structure of this song is a set of variations made on a single theme, where the virtuosic and rich style of the composer blends with the elements of the traditional folk music;

2 – “Bardenklänge” (Bardic Sounds, translated in english) – a group of compositions and small pieces inspired by the music for piano composed by Robert Schumann and his works, still considered as one of the main contributions to the classical guitar repertorie;

3 – “Concertino per chitarra sola” – The last composition , this is mainly a concert piece for a solo guitar, composed for the musical competition of Brussels in the year of 1856. The structure includes a fast and very virtuosic-style Allegro section that alternates with a slower and dynamic-rich and expressive section of Andante. No wonder that it won the composition afterall, the melody and the clear yet intricated structure are very praised in the group of his virtuosic compositions.

4 – The trilogy of great fantasias “La Rimembranza“, “Pensée fugitive” and “Harmonie du soir” – a group of 3 pieces that was inspired by the music for piano of composer Franz Liszt.


You can find the music scores of his compositions on the dedicated section about his pieces on IMSLP website


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