Belgium's foremost trumpet virtuoso dies
Theo Mertens (1932 -2003)
April 12, 2003 
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Theo Mertens

On March 31st, Theo Mertens died at his home in Edegem: he had been ill for some time.

Born in 1932 in Boechout, a small town near Antwerp, he started taking trumpet lessons at the age of 11 and showed great talent from the beginning. At a very young age he distinguished himself as a virtuoso trumpet player in many different styles and received numerous awards.

At 17 years old, Mertens was already playing principal trumpet with the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra and later became solo trumpet with the Royal Band of the Belgian Guides. The Antwerp Conservatory welcomed Theo after graduation as a faculty member. He taught his chamber music course there until his retirement. In 1955 Mertens, together with Maurice André, won the First Prize in the 'Concours International d'Exécution Musicale' in Geneva, Switserland. This resulted in a world wide touring career.

Theo Mertens never narrowed his interest to one style. He felt equally at ease performing classical concertos as well as contemporary pieces. He premiered numerous compositions dedicated to him by Belgian composers. His broad view allowed him to explore different aspects of more popular musical styles and for many years he was leader of his own entertainment band. His virtuoso style, his stunning technique and musical sensitivity and his wonderful singing sound charmed audiences wherever he went.

On the occasion of the World Fair in Brussels in 1958, Mertens founded his Brass Quintet which was later also the centre of his large Theo Mertens Brass Ensemble. With both groups he performed hundreds of concerts, presenting a broad spectrum of musical styles to a wide audience.

During his career he build a strong reputation as a clinician and in this capacity he was a seasoned worldwide traveller. Besides his chamber music class at the Antwerp Conservatory, Mertens taught also at several Music Academies in the Antwerp region and he was trumpet professor at the Rotterdam Conservatory.

During the last years of his life he continued to develop interesting projects, in which he never shied away from controversy. His last large-scale project was an arrangement of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas for some theater groups in Holland. The arrangement was conceived for two brass quartets with accordion and bass trombone on the continuo part. Introductory music was composed upon his request by the young Belgian jazz trumpet player, Bert Joris.
Until he became ill, Theo Mertens was still active in the Belgian mambo orchestra 'El Tattoo del Tigre'.

Theo Mertens is survived by his wife Yvonne Gauthier, his two children with their partners and four grandchildren.

Source: Arthur Vanderhoeft

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