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
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.