Solo Instrumentals by Napoléon Coste and Johann Kaspar Mertz
- La vallee d'Ornans by Coste
- Meulan by Coste
- Le Passage des Alpes - I Maestoso by Coste
- Le Passage des Alpes - II Marche by Coste
- Le Passage des Alpes - III Rondo by Coste
- Reverie Nocturne by Coste
- Fantasie originale by Mertz
- Souvenir de Choulhoff by Mertz
- Le Romantique by Mertz
- Pensee fugitive by Mertz
- Liebeslied by Mertz
In the world of music in the first half of the 19th century, the guitar had a substantial place and influence. Virtuosos like Carulli, Molino, Aguado and Sor were artisans of the instrument's popularity.
This popularity diminished at the end of 1840 and the instrument descended into a dark period. Napoleon Coste was one of few guitarist-composers after that period. A native of Jura, France, Coste remained much attached to his native land and a good number of his composition titles are evocative of the nature in that part of the world. La vallée d'Ornans, Meulan and Le passage des Alpes are good examples of this.
Napoleon Coste saw his career as a concert guitarist abruptly ended by an accident in 1863 in which he broke his right arm. When he recovered he continued to teach guitar, and he was one of the first who transcribed the music of 17th century in modern notation for the guitar.
La vallée d'Ornan is an andante with a very romantic spirit full of dynamic contrasts. The introduction begins with a very dark melody played in a register, which gives the listener an impression of sadness. Surprisingly, that theme is shortly reintroduced and followed by a very romantic melodic line reminiscent of Coste's teacher, Fernando Sor. The theme is reintroduced and followed by the introduction's conclusion. The second part of the piece (called “Les Montagnards”, which means mountain people) features a more dynamic movement structured in a rondo form in which the player needs to demonstrate a good deal of virtuosity.
Meulan, as the other piece “La vallée d'Ornans”, is a part of “Souvenirs, sept morceaux episodiques” and has more romanticism than typical Coste music. The very romantic introduction of this piece puts the listener in a very quiet mood. The Allegro section contrasts in mode and rhythm and presents various themes reminiscent of a Strauss waltz. The piece concludes with a brilliant arpeggio section.
Le Passage des Alpes is a piece divided into three opuses (op 27, 28 and 40). The first piece features the same introduction as found in op 14 (Introduction and Polonaise) in which the introduction is optional. This introduction is followed by a section in which several tempos are used (Allegro, Vivo and Andantino). At the end of this final section, the scene is set for the second movement, the Marche. This movement has a trio written in C major which contrasts nicely with the G major in which the Marche is written. The third movement is a rondo. A theme is introduced in E minor and Coste invites us to discover a variation of that same theme later on in E major. After that theme variation, a nice section in C major is introduced. The theme reappears after that section and the piece concludes with an original chord sequence.
Reverié Nocturne is a piece by Fernando Sor's “Method pour Guitare” that was revised by Coste. This piece is not as elaborate as the others presented in that program, but nevertheless demonstrate that Coste continuously took special care to write interesting musical content even if the piece was a study (in this case, a study of integrating harmonics with natural notes).
Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856)
Hungarian guitarist, flutist and composer, Caspar Joseph Mertz was born in Pressbourg (today Bratislava, Slovakia) on August 17, 1806. He was the fourth and last child of Jespeh Mertz and Polexina Failmar. Mertz was often called and named Johann Kaspar instead of Caspar Joseph. During his youth, he received flute and guitar lessons. At 12, he gave music lessons and contributed to the family income. His unique goal was to become a virtuoso guitarist. At 34, he decided to move to Vienna to seek fame and fortune. The first concert from which a trace was found of Mertz is dated June 20, 1834 and was organized by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (pianist and composer born in Pressbourg in 1778).
In Vienna he became well-known as a teacher of guitar and an excellent interpreter of the concerts given to the theatre of the court. He was taken under the protection of the empress Carolina Augusta and was named guitarist of the court. In the following years, Mertz performed many concert tours in cities like Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig, Prague and also in Russia.
In 1842, he met the pianist Josephine Plantin in Dresden, where they continued their tour together. An evening concert that they were to give to Gewandhaus of Leipzig was cancelled because the guitarist was ill. On their way back to Vienna they married in Prague on December 14, 1842. The couple settled in Vienna and divided their time between teaching and performing concerts. They both held music courses for the members of Viennese high society.
On the instrumental level, Mertz turned to a model of guitar featuring additional bass strings. He played an 8-string Staufer and then a 10-string Schertzer. Too much intense activity left Mertz in a serious state of exhaustion. In 1846, following a facial neuralgia, a doctor prescribed strychnine to him. His wife Joséphine administered the entire dose at once, consequently resulting in near fatal poisoning. For two years, he was forced away from the music scene. Mertz, who was one of the most brilliant representatives of the school Viennese of guitar at the beginning of the 19th century, made this period profitable by composing Bardenklänge opus 13. This set of pieces was inspired by the poetry of the bard Ossian Gaelic, who would have lived in 3rd century. Actually, Ossian never existed and these texts, which ignited all of romantic Europe and inspired more than one painter or musician, were the work of a pleasant Scot, James MacPherson, who lived during second half of the 18th century. Completed in 1842, the collection of Mertz's Bardenklänge comprised of twenty-five pieces for guitar.
When he was able to finally resume his activities, the Hungarian revolution of March 1848 had forced many pupils and the public to flee, which complicated the couple's financial and artistic situation. But the circumstances improved and the activities resumed, Mertz and his wife played for nobility and also for the Imperial family in Salzburg in 1855.
At beginning of 1855, Mertz's health declined. Like Chopin, Mertz contracted tuberculosis. Treatment during the summer 1856 did not improve his health. Joséphine recalled a time when Mertz was barely able to complete the program during a performance. Arriving in Vienna, the doctor detected a liver problem, likely due to the poisoning of 1846, and heart problems in addition to his tuberculosis. His anguish lasted a month and Caspar Joseph Mertz died on October 14, 1856.
That same year, the Russian diplomat Nikolaj Petrovic Makaroff, an amateur guitarist, organized a contest in Brussels. This contest was comprised a composition section. Napoleon Coste took part in it with his "Great Serenade opus 30", but on October 10, 1846, it is Mertz's "Concertino per Chitarra sola" which was victorious. The news of this victory came to Joséphine only two days after the death of her husband.
Fantaisie Originale is very typical of Mertz music. It features arpeggios, a dramatic introduction to later end on a charming melody that goes straight to the heart. That charming melody is reintroduced with a variation featuring a tremolo technique, which simply emphases the beauty of the melody itself. The piece concludes on a virtuoso exhibition of scale, arpeggios that demand a high degree of technique from the player (as does most of Mertz's music).
Mazurka de Choulhoff is a piece that lets us discover another great talent of Johann Kaspar Mertz, transcription work. This piece is a guitar transcription of a work written by Julius Schulhoff (1825-1898). Arpegios and virtuosity demonstration compose the introduction of the piece. Then the mazurka tempo comes and presents the musical theme in which Mertz demonstrates his great virtuosity. The piece finishes with an arpeggio section which was very typical in that musical period.
Le Romantique features an introduction which exploits the extra strings that Mertz had on his guitar. After a wonderful and intense introduction, the theme is presented and once again, the magic of Mertz is in action. A wonderful melody is presented in minor, supported occasionally by extra bass notes. After the main presentation of the theme, Mertz still had a surprise for the listener, the theme is presented again in a variation that features a tremolo technique in the accompaniment.
Liesbeslied is a piece that comes from Mertz's famous series of pieces “Bardenklange”. There is no introduction in that small piece, just a melody that seems to float over the accompaniment. The final section features arpeggios supporting the melodic line and the piece concludes.
Pensée Fugitive is another great work from Mertz. The piece is divided into five sections. The first section is very intense and features arpeggios and scales, demanding the player to demonstrate a high level of technique. Once the introduction concludes, the listener at this point would expect the piece to continue in that furious mode, but Mertz is again performing his magic by presenting an adagio section that takes advantage of the extra bass range of the 10-string guitar. A pleasant melody floats over an arpeggio and after a quasi cadenza section; the third section is introduced contrasting with an Allegro tempo. The theme of that section is presented in A major and Mertz explores a variant of this theme in C major in that same section. The section concludes with a nice chord sequence preparing the modulation in E major for presenting the fourth section. This section is again contrasting in tempo and this Andante features a cadenza in the middle part. The conclusion borrows some musical ideas from the introduction. The theme of the third section is then reintroduced and the piece finishes in an amazing display of arpeggios.
Pierre Tremblay - February 2007
Born in 1961, the Finnish guitarist Jouni Stenroos started playing guitar at the age of ten. He studied first with Ilkka Virta, and then Jukka Savijoki, who also was his instructor during his years at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. During his studies Stenroos got his first taste of the music of Coste and Mertz, which immediately became his favourite.
Stenroos has also participated in several master classes, with such names as David Russell, Gordon Crosskey and Jorge Morel. In the late 1980's he won third place in the international Scandinavian Guitar Festival in Finland. He received his diploma in 1990.
After his studies, however, Stenroos sought inspiration in other areas, leaving the guitar aside for many years. Later on Stenroos found the classical guitar to be closest to his heart and returned to his roots. In 2004, in addition to a normal guitar, he joined an exotic genre and began to play a 10-string instrument.