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Roberto Gerhard

Roberto Gerhard

Roberto Gerhard


Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) was a Catalan-born composer, musical scholar, and writer. Gerhard (who only consistently adopted the form ‘Roberto’ after he was exiled from Spain) was the son of a German-Swiss father and an Alsatian mother. Born Robert Juan Rene Gerhard on 25th September 1896 in Valls, Catalonia, he was predisposed to an international, multilingual outlook, but by birth and culture he was a Catalan. He studied piano with Granados and composition with the great scholar-composer Felipe Pedrell Read more on Last.fm
Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) was a Catalan-born composer, musical scholar, and writer. Gerhard (who only consistently adopted the form ‘Roberto’ after he was exiled from Spain) was the son of a German-Swiss father and an Alsatian mother. Born Robert Juan Rene Gerhard on 25th September 1896 in Valls, Catalonia, he was predisposed to an international, multilingual outlook, but by birth and culture he was a Catalan. He studied piano with Granados and composition with the great scholar-composer Felipe Pedrell, teacher of Albéniz, Granados, and Falla. When Pedrell died in 1922, Gerhard tried unsuccessfully to become a pupil of Falla and considered studying with Charles Koechlin in Paris, but then approached Arnold Schoenberg who, on the strength of a few early compositions, accepted him as his only Spanish pupil.

Gerhard spent several years with Schoenberg in Vienna and Berlin. Returning to Barcelona in 1928, he devoted his energies to new music through concerts and journalism, in conjunction with the flourishing literary and artistic avant-garde of Catalonia. He befriended Joan Miró and Pablo Casals, brought Schoenberg and Webern to Barcelona, and was the principal organizer of the 1936 ISCM Festival there. He also collected, edited and performed folksongs and old Spanish music from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century. Identified with the Republican cause throughout the Spanish Civil War (as musical adviser to the Minister of Fine Arts in the Catalan Government and a member of the Republican Government’s Social Music Council), Gerhard was forced to flee to France in 1939 and later that year settled in Cambridge, England.

Until the death of Franco, who made it his business to extirpate Catalan national aspirations, his music was virtually proscribed in Spain, to which he never returned except for holidays. Apart from copious work for the BBC and in the theatre, Gerhard’s compositions of the 1940s were explicitly related to aspects of Spanish and Catalan culture, beginning in 1940 with a Symphony in memory of Pedrell and the first version of the ballet Don Quixote. They culminated in The Duenna (a Spanish opera on an English play, by Sheridan). During the 1950s the legacy of Schoenbergian serialism, a background presence in these overtly national works, engendered an increasingly radical approach to composition which, by the 1960s, placed Gerhard firmly in the ranks of the avant-garde.

Performances at international festivals and by the BBC brought wider recognition on both sides of the Atlantic and he taught in the USA in the early 1960s. From the early 1950s Gerhard suffered from a heart condition which eventually killed him. He died in Cambridge on 5th January 1970. In 1992, the long-delayed stage premieres of The Duenna in Madrid and Barcelona signalled the beginning of the restitution of his reputation in Spain. Gerhard’s most significant works, apart from those already mentioned, include four symphonies (the Third, Collages, for orchestra and tape), the Concerto for Orchestra, concertos for violin, piano and harpsichord, the cantata The Plague (after Albert Camus), the ballets Pandora and Soirées de Barcelone and pieces for a wide variety of chamber ensembles, including Sardanas for the indigenous Catalan street band, the cobla. He was perhaps the first important composer of electronic music in Britain; his incidental music for the 1955 Stratford-on-Avon King Lear – one of many such commissions for the Royal Shakespeare Company - was the first electronic score for the British stage.

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