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ClassicsOnline Home » REGONDI: Airs Varies / Reverie, Op. 19 / MERTZ: Bardenklange, Op. 13
If the Romantic movement came as a surprise, it was
only because its immediate predecessor, the Classical
period, was seen as a natural development of the
Baroque period, but this new development in music
was a strong reaction, a swing in another direction.
Both Mertz and Regondi carried on the composerperformer
tradition of Sor and Giuliani a generation
before, as did their contemporaries Coste and Ferranti.
It was considered the norm. Not until the twentieth
century, when Segovia, Bream and others approached
other composers instead of writing their own music,
did guitarists have a broad-based repertoire to draw
from. Another factor in the guitar’s slow development
was its denial by the teaching academies of the time.
The keybound nature of its fingerboard meant that only
a few bright talents found the tonal freedom, the ability
to change key instantaneously, that pianists have
always taken for granted.
What the guitar could do, however, it did well.
Regondi and Mertz found inspiration in the piano
music of Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann, and
adapted elements of their music into their own creative
processes. After the huge wave of guitar popularity in
the early part of the nineteenth century had subsided,
the talents of Regondi and Mertz shine like lighthouses
over a dark sea.
Giulio Regondi had a disturbed early life. His
German mother seems to have vanished early in his
childhood, and it was his Italian father (or stepfather,
by some accounts) who brought him up and, a guitarist
himself, presumably gave him his first lessons on the
guitar. Teaching, however, gave way to exploitation,
and when this manipulator disappeared with the young
prodigy’s earnings, Giulio had a hard time of it. The
help of friends and his own resilience ensured survival,
though we shall never know how far this early trauma
contributed to his untimely death at the age of fifty
from a painful cancer.
Unlike many child prodigies, Regondi matured
into an artist of poetic genius. His reputation increased
accordingly. In childhood he had met and played in
concert with the guitarist Catherine Josepha Pelzer
(Madame Sidney Pratten). Fernando Sor dedicated
Souvenir d’Amitié, Op.46, to him, and he was to give
concerts with musicians such as the pianist Ignaz
Moscheles, the singer Maria Malibran and the pianist
Clara Schumann, all musicians at the top of their
Regondi’s guitar compositions reflect not only his
gentle nature but also the high romanticism of his
period. The discovery by Matanya Ophee of 10 Etudes,
previously thought to be lost, compelled a revaluation
of Regondi’s contribution. The two Airs Variés, Op.22,
and Op.23, can only reinforce the new respect that
ensued. Each begins with a slow introduction,
followed by an Andante theme, slightly operatic in
character, after which come a number of variations
(four in Op.22, five in Op.23) that show off the
resources of the instrument: brilliant passages of
demisemiquavers (32nd notes), a minor-key tremolo,
consecutive ninths and triplets.
Study No.4b is not one of the 10 Etudes referred to
above, but is thought to be a transcription of one of
Regondi’s pieces for concertina, which he played to
virtuoso standard and for which he composed many
more pieces than he ever wrote for the guitar. This
surviving study has a form typical of Regondi: a high
melody supported by broken chords in the bass. It
suggests Schumann, but is very much Regondi’s own.
The tremolando technique is designed to give a
plucked instrument the illusion of sustaining power.
Regondi’s extended use of the form in Rêverie, Op.19,
dwarfs even Tárrega’s later and much-played
Recuerdos de la Alhambra, and makes it a favourite
among guitarists. A slow introduction is followed by
clusters of gossamer-like hemidemisemiquavers (64th
notes) before the tremolo section is heard. The long
line of an eloquent bass aria interrupts this flow before
a harmonically interesting chord sequence returns the
piece to its tremolando substance.
Limited knowledge of Regondi’s output led in the
past to critical undervaluation, but a deeper
acquaintance has revealed that his music is as worthy of
attention as the majority of other works composed
during the Romantic period. Few composers of the time
knew their instruments as intimately as Regondi knew
the guitar and the concertina. He was unique.
Johann Kaspar Mertz was born in what was then the
Hungarian city of Pozsony, later Pressburg, now
Bratislava. He settled in Vienna, where he had the good
sense, or the good luck, to be taken up by royalty. His
life was not an easy one but, unlike Regondi, his
troubles came later, in adulthood. Concerts had to be
cancelled through illness; and insurrection and
revolution deprived him of pupils and the income they
brought. To cap everything, his pianist wife Josephine
Plantin nearly killed him with an accidental overdose of
strychnine prescribed for his neuralgia. On the other
hand, she did introduce him to the piano works of
Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn, and they proved
to be powerful influences in his own compositions.
Musical taste in nineteenth-century Vienna
embraced music from virtually every nearby nation.
The Polish polonaise was a favourite, and Schubert
wrote six of them for piano duet. Mertz went one better
with his seven; like Schubert’s, they conform more to
the popular Viennese perception of the form -
something to be played rather than danced - than to the
original Polish model. Like Schubert’s, they have a
contrasting trio section before a repeat to the beginning.
They form part of Bardenklänge (Sounds of Bards), an
immense work containing nearly thirty pieces of wide
Another work in Bardenklänge is Rondino. It
begins with a majestic march in A minor that is
followed by a graceful section in A major before the
main rondo-like body of the work, more classical in
style than romantic but needing the technique of a
virtuoso to do justice to the idiomatic writing for the
guitar. It contains few harmonic surprises, but it does
indicate that Mertz must have been, like Regondi, a
guitarist of outstanding ability.
One of his admirers was a wealthy Russian,
Nikolay Makarov, to whom we owe a rare description
of Mertz: “A tall man, about fifty years of age, neither
fat nor thin, very modest. His playing was marked by
power, energy, feeling, clarity and expression”. It was
Makarov who in 1856 offered two prizes for the best
guitar composition. Mertz’s Op.65 was judged the
winner, but the composer died before he could receive
the award. Like Regondi, he had lived for only fifty
years but had greatly enriched the guitar repertoire.
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REGONDI: Airs Varies / Reverie, Op. 19 / MERTZ: Ba...