Henri Jérôme Bertini was born in London on 28 October 1798 but his family returned to Paris six months later. He received his early musical education from his father and his brother, a pupil of Muzio Clementi. He was considered a child prodigy and at the age of 12 his father took him on a tour of England, Holland, Flanders, and Germany where he was enthusiastically received. After studies in composition in England and Scotland he was appointed professor of music in Brussels but returned to Paris in 1821. It is known that Bertini gave a concert with Franz Liszt in the Salons Pape on 20 April 1828. The program included a transcription by Bertini of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major for eight hands (the other pianists were Sowinsky and Schunke.) He was also admired as a chamber music performer, giving concerts with his friends Antoine Fontaine (violin) and Auguste Franchomme (cello). He remained active in and around Paris until around 1848 when he retired from the musical scene. In 1859 he moved to Meylan (near Grenoble) where he died on 30 September 1876.
Bertini concertized widely but was not as celebrated a virtuoso as either Friedrich Kalkbrenner or Henri Herz. One of his contemporaries described his playing as having Clementi's evenness and clarity in rapid passages as well as the quality of sound, the manner of phrasing, and the ability to make the instrument sing characteristic of the school of Hummel and Moschelès. Thomas Tapper wrote:
He was in his time a shining example of the most admirable qualities of an artist. Living in an age of garish virtuosity, and hailed as a brilliant executant himself, he maintained nevertheless the most rigorous standards of musicianship in his playing, in his compositions, and in the music which he appeared before the public to interpret. This is the more remarkable when one considers that his manhood was reached during the luxuriant period of French romanticism and that the extravagances of the literary outburst were reflected in the musical movements of the time. Virtuosity was subjected to sore temptations and many succumbed. Bertini stood for the sounder qualities of the artist and gradually acquired an extended and remunerative prestige. His life was singularly devoid of incident and official distinction, but the legacy of pedagogic works which he has left to us and his honorable activity give it every right to be called a success.
Bertini was celebrated as a teacher. Antoine Marmontel, who devoted the second chapter of his work on celebrated pianists to Bertini, wrote
He was unsurpassed as a teacher, giving his lessons with scrupulous care and the keenest interest in his pupils' progress. After he had given up teaching, a number of his pupils continued with me, and I recognized the soundness of the principles drawn from his instruction.
It is above all in the special class of studies and caprices, that Bertini's immense popularity is founded. It is here that he occupied a unique position and opened the path over which the next generation of composers was to rush after him. In each of his numerous collections of studies, embracing every degree of difficulty, he has insistently given to every piece, easy or difficult, brief or extended, a character of salient melody. The technical problem to be overcome presents itself as a song; even where the study is devoted to the problem of velocity the general contour falls into a melodic curve, and this is the first and transcendent cause of the universal success of these pieces, which are, furthermore, natural in respect to rhythm and carefully thought out harmonically.
Robert Schumann, in a review of one of Bertini's piano trios in the Gesammelte Schriften, comments that Bertini writes easily flowing harmony but that the movements are too long. He continues: "With the best will in the world, we find it difficult to be angry with Bertini, yet he drives us to distraction with his perfumed Parisian phrases; all his music is as smooth as silk and satin." German sentimentality has never appreciated French elegance.
Bertini is best remembered today for his piano method Le Rudiment du pianiste, and his 20 books of approximately 500 studies.
The Nonetto opus 107 for flute, oboe, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, viola, cello, double bass, and piano, composed in 1835, is one of Bertini's major works. Berlioz wrote a review in Maurice Schlesinger's widely distributed and very influential La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris of a performance at a music evening given by the Tilmant brothers on 6 May 1838:
That same evening a Nonetto by Bertini for piano, viola, cello, oboe, flute, horn, bassoon, trumpet and bass, was performed. It is a great and beautiful composition in which each instrument contributes to the whole according to its importance and idiomatic qualities, without trying to stand out individually. The piano itself is only entrusted those parts which contribute to the musical sense of the moment, and makes no effort toward brilliance for brilliance's sake. Beethoven himself followed this philosophy in his immortal trios. Amongst other movements, this Nonetto includes an adagio entitled La Melancolie which provides more than its title might indicate; it is so grandiose, at times so majestically sombre, that the sentiment of melancholy one expects is overshadowed by ideas of a much higher and rare order. In no way do I mean to quibble with the title, God forbid; all I wish to say is that this admirable work is not only melancholic, but also much more. In the Scherzo and Finale one finds details of graceful melancholy as well as vivacious charm, but the Adagio rises up in the centre of the work like the Mont Blanc among its neighbouring peaks; it dominates all; it is a sublime and profound meditation which provides an almost painful impression that cannot be forgotten.
Berlioz later made further comments about this evening in the July 6 edition of Le Journal des débats:
The Nonetto by Bertini... is the work of a great musician with a lively and ardent imagination, who will grow stronger and more powerful if he refrains from his attempts to encourage applause as he occasionally sought to do in the first movement. His peroration was all too obvious and he is seen to be too preoccupied with achieving success and producing effects. This detracts from the free flowing of his thoughts. This fault does not exist in the other parts of the Nonetto. In composing these the author, fully involved in his subject, undoubtedly forgot that he was actually writing for his public, and concerned himself only with the task at hand and the ultimate unity of the work. Which of these last three movements is our favourite? The Adagio, above all, is without question a noble and magnificent inspiration whose sombre poetry reminds us of the sublime greatness of Beethoven's Sonatas. This is admirable.
The Nonetto was reduced to a quintet (flute or violin, violin, viola, cello and piano) by Charles Schwencke, a pianist and composer from Hamburg who was living in Paris. This appears to have been done for amateur musicians: the flute part, which can be replaced by a violin, contains frequent octave transpositions to make it easier to play.
Bertini wrote approximately 500 études, ranging from easy studies for young students whose hands cannot span an octave to concert études. They were published in sets of 25 studies each. Roughly in order of difficulty they are:Études faciles composées expressément pour les petites mains
25 Etudes faciles et progressives, Op.100
25 Etudes, Op.137
25 Études primaires, Op.166
Introduction à celles de Cramer
24 Etudes, Op.29
24 Etudes, Op.32
opus 86 sur les romances de A. Romagnési
opus 141 précédées chacune d'un prélude en deux suites. No. 1
opus 142 précédées chacune d'un prélude en deux suites. No. 2
Introduction aux Études caractéristiques de l'opus 66
Études caprices ou Complément aux Études caractéristiques
Grandes Études artistiques de première force
Bertini also wrote several sets of études for piano four hands
opus 160 L'Art de la mesure pour les petites mains à quatre mains
opus 149 Études très facile à quatre mains
opus 150 Études très facile à quatre mains
opus 97 Études musicales à quatre mains pour le piano
opus 135 Études musicales à quatre mains pour le piano
WoO Frère et soeur. Quatre petits Duos pour le piano à quatre mains composés pour Henri et Isabelle.
WoO Mère et fille. Quatre petits Duos pour le piano à quatre mains suite à Frère et soeur.
In addition to these, the last five published books of études appear to have been conceived as a set
opus 175 Études préparatoires
opus 176 Études intermédiares
opus 177 Études spéciales de la vélocité, du trille et de la main gauche
opus 178 Études normales et classiques
opus 179 Études suite de l'opus 150 à quatre mains pour le piano
Introduction and variations upon the air of Gondrillon
Celebrated Irish melody as sung in the opera of Guy Mannering with variations and an introduction for the piano forte
Third divertimento for the piano forte
Air with seven variations for the piano forte
Polacca composed pour the piano forte
Again a little trifle. Andante for the piano forte
Le jaloux dupé. Opéra comique en 1 acteCaïn. Scène biblique (Biblical scene)
Françoise de Rimini
Cinq Morceaux religieux. Paroles latines à usage des séminaires, communautés religieuses, chapelles et maisons d'education. Ave Maris Stella, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo, Ave Maris Stella, Ave Maria (Five religious pieces. Latin lyrics for the use of seminarians, religious communities, chapels, and places of education...)
Deuxième Messe à quatre voix pour deux ténors et deux basses avec accompagnement d'orgue (Second Mass in four voices for two tenors and two basses with organ accompaniment.)
La Melodie Religieuse. Collection de motets au Saint Sacrement et à la Sainte Vierge à une ou plusieurs voix avec accompagnement d'orgue (Religious melody. Collection of motets to the Holy Sacrament and the Holy Virgin for one or several voices ith organ accompaniment.)
StudiesLa Gymnastique des doigts. Préparation à l'étude du piano (Finger gymnastic. preparation for piano studies)
La Semaine du Pianiste. Etudes journalières de la gamme dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs (The pianist's week. Daily studies of all the major and minor scales.)
Etudes pour le piano forte en 24 exercices (Studies for panoforte in 24 exercises).
Exercices en doubles notes (Exercises for double notes).
Exercices en octaves, exercices en accord (Exercises for octaves and chords).
Premières leçons doigtées et arrangées pour les petites mains (First lessons in fingering and arranged for small hands).
Cinquantes Leçons progressives, faisant suite aux précédentes (Fifty progressive lessons, following the preceding ones)
Douze Etudes spéciales (Twelve special studies)
Miscellaneous piano piecesLa Romanesca
Scherzo en do majeur pour piano
Storielle amorosa pour piano
Duos for piano and violin by Bertini and Antoine Fontaine1er livre. L'Amitié, grand Duo pour piano et violon
2ème livre. Les saisons, Duo brillant pour piano, violon ou violoncelle
3ème livre. Fantaisie et variations brillantes sur un air suisse pour piano et violon concertantes
4ème livre. Fantaisie concertante sur Robin des Bois pour piano et violon
5ème livre. L'automne. Grand duo concertant pour piano et violon
6ème livre. La Conversation. Duo concertant pour piano et violon
7ème livre. Duetto pour piano et violon
8ème livre. Serenata pour piano et violon
9ème livre. Notturno pour piano et violon
Duo for piano and violin by Bertini and Auguste FranchommeThème varié pour piano et violoncelle
Duo for piano and flute by Bertini and Joseph GuillouFantaisie pour piano et flûte
Collection des préludes et fugues de Sébastien Bach arrangés pour le piano à quatre mains. Ecole de la musique d' ensemble. Etudes spéciales du style élévé, de la mesure et de toutes les combinaisons les plus difficiles du rythme. (Collection of preludes and fugues by Sebastian Bach arranged for piano with four hands. School of ensemble music. Special studies of elevated style, of measures (bars) and of all the most difficult combinations of rhythm.)
Méthode pratique pour le piano forte rédigée d'après le mode d'enseignement indiqué par J. Jacotet et composée de morceaux choisis (Practical method for the pianoforte edited according to the teaching method described by J. Jacotet and composed of chosen pieces.)
Méthode élémentaire et facile de piano (Simple, elementary method for the piano).
Méthode complète et progressive de piano (Complete and progressive method for the piano).
Muzio Clémenti, Etudes journières des gammes. (Muzio Clémenti, Daily studies of scales.)