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Merchi [Melchy, Merchy, Merci], Joseph Bernard

Jürgen Libbert

https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.18430
Published in print: 20 January 2001
Published online: 2001

(b Naples, c1730; d Paris, May 22, 1793). Italian instrumentalist and composer, active in France. He is
often confused with his brother Giacomo (‘di Brescia’) since almost all their published works simply
have the name ‘Merchi’. The earliest documented reference to the brothers is from Rennes in France
on 25 May 1751. Described as ‘brothers from Venice, musicians of the chamber of his majesty the King
of Sardinia’ (Paolini) they played the mandolin, lute, ‘calissonciny’ and theorbo. They also performed
that year in Dijon. Five concerts on the colascione, mandolin and cello in Frankfurt were announced for
August and September 1752, one with the violinist Carlo Tessarini, while the Mercure de France noted
a performance by the Merchi brothers of a ‘concerto of their composition on the calsoncini’ at the
Concert Spirituel in Paris on 31 May 1753. They also gave concerts in London. After 1760 it seems that
only one Merchi brother (possibly Joseph Bernard) remained in Paris; contemporary comments suggest
he had a high reputation as a composer and as a teacher of the guitar, mandolin and violin.

A privilège générale to publish their own vocal and instrumental music was granted to the Merchis in
1755, 1766, 1771 and 1777, and each year from about 1760 to about 1780 one or two books for guitar
were published in Paris; the titles of opp.3 and 4 still bear the first name Giacomo. As publishers the
Merchi brothers contributed to the wide variety of music published in Paris before the Revolution,
including newly-composed songs and works for guitar, mandolin and violin as well as compositions by
Albanese, Gluck, Grétry, Monsigny, Philidor and Piccinni. Some works, including pieces for the English
guitar, were also published in London. The brother remaining in Paris published two guitar methods:
Le guide des écoliers de guitarre op.7 (c1761) and Traité des agréments op.35 (1777), a supplement to
the earlier work.

As adherents to the Enlightenment the Merchi brothers endeavoured to provide guitarists with new
repertory of a higher quality than before and to continue to develop the instrument. Vocal
accompaniments in their works have melodic accompanying parts to complement simple arpeggios. In
the guitar duos both parts are of equal importance and there is some surprising harmonic phrasing.
Merchi publications up until op.6 employed a parallel system of tablature and staff notation for the
guitar part, as in the music of Corrette and Genty, but after op.7 tablature was abandoned. The use of
double strings, advocated in op.7, gave way to the use of single strings for the sake of improved sound
and timbre in op.35. Some of J.-J. Rousseau's ideas are included in op.35, and some of his music in op.
36. The Mercure de France in 1770 also described the Paris Merchi as an advocate of a newly-invented
method of adjusting the frets in mandolins and guitars. His tireless exertions made him the most
important figure in his field in the pre-Revolutionary period, when the Baroque guitar was finally
developing into the Classical instrument.

Works

published in Paris unless otherwise stated; London publications are probably by Giacomo

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Instrumental

op.

2 Sei duetti, 2 vn/mand (n.d.)

3 Quatro duetti, 2 gui, e 6 minuetti … con variazione, gui (n.d/R)

5 Sei trio, 2 vn, b (c1755)

9 Sei trio, 2 vn/mand, vc (n.d.)

12 Sei duetti, gui, muted vn (1764/R)

15 Six duo, 2 mand/vn/tr viol (1764)

16 Dodici suonate, 6 for gui, 6 for 2 gui/(gui, vn) (London, 1766)

21 Sei sonate, gui, muted vn (1769)

21 Twelve divertimentos, 2 gui/(gui, vn) (London, n.d.)

22 A Collection of the Most Favorite Italian, French & English Songs & Duets, 2
gui (London, n.d.)

28 Sei Sonate, gui, vn (n.d.)

33 Sei duetti, 2 gui/(gui, muted vn) (1775)

– Six Lessons and Six Duets … Book First, gui and 2 gui/(gui, vn) (London, n.d.)

Vocal

1 Six barcaroles italiennes, 1v, insts, bc (1755)

4 Raccolta d'ariette francesi ed italiane, 1v, gui


(c1760/R)

5 Ariette et vaudevilles nouveaux, 1v, gui (1760)

15 Scelta d'arietta francesi, italiane ed inglesi, 1v,


gui (London, 1766)

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17 12 ariette et 4 duetti per cantare o sonare, 1v,
vn/fl/hpd/gui, bc (n.d.)

– Collection of the Most Favourite Italian, French


& English Songs, gui acc. (London, n.d.)

– A Collection of the Most Favourite Italian,


French & English Songs and Duets, gui acc.
(London, n.d.)

Livre[s] de guitare, opp. 6, 8, 10–


11, 13–14, 16, 18–20, 22–7, 29–32,
34, 36 (1761–1780), incl. La
guitarre de bonne humeur, Les
soirées de Paris, Recueil d'airs
avec accompagnement de guitarre

Various pieces, CH-BEb


[Giacomo], Bu [Joseph Bernard], E
; GB-Lam; S-HÄ [Giacomo]; SK
[Giacomo]

Pedagogical works

op.

e
7 Le guide des écoliers de guitarre, ou Préludes aussi agréables qu'utiles … V
livre de guitarre (c1761/R, 2/1761 as Instruction préliminaire ou Méthode
courte et facile pour apprendre la guitarre)

35 Traité des agréments de la musique exécutés sur la guitarre (1777/R)

Bibliography
Choron-FayolleD

DEMF, i

La BordeE

Mercure de France (June 1753), 163 only; (May 1760), 177 only; (Sept 1767), 182 only; (Dec
1769), 207–8; (Dec 1770), 179–80; (Jan 1777), 205 only

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D. Fryklund: ‘Colascione och colascionister’, STMf, 18 (1936), 88–118, esp. 113–16

B. Terzi: Dizionario dei chitarristi e liutai italiani (Bologna, 1937), 146–7

A. Miteran: Histoire de la guitare (Paris, 1976), 33

P.W. Cox: Classic Guitar Technique and its Evolution as Reflected in the Method Books ca. 1770–
1850 (diss., Indiana U., 1978), 12, 200–01

P. Paolini: Introduction to Giacomo Merchi: Opere scelte (Florence, 1981) [R of opp.3, 4, 12, 25]

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