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Biography of

Roberto Gerhard

25 sep 1896 (Valls) - 5 jan 1970 (Cambridge)
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Robert Gerhard (born Robert Juan Rene Gerhard; 25 September 1896 – 5 January 1970) was a Spanish Catalan composer and musical scholar and writer, generally known outside Catalonia as Roberto Gerhard.



Gerhard (who only consistently adopted the form ‘Roberto’ after he was exiled from Spain)[1] was born in Valls, near Tarragona, Spain, the son of a German-Swiss father and an Alsatian mother. 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 Francisco 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 a masterpiece as The Duenna (a Spanish opera on an English play, by Sheridan, which is set in Spain). The Covent Garden production of Don Quixote and the BBC broadcasts of The Duenna popularized Gerhard's reputation in the UK though not in Spain.[2] 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. From the early 1950s Gerhard suffered from a heart condition which eventually ended his life. He died in Cambridge in 1970 and is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge.


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.

Stylistic Evolution

For twenty years – first in Barcelona and then in exile in England – Gerhard cultivated, and enormously enriched, a modern tonal idiom with a pronounced Spanish-folkloric orientation that descended on the one hand from Pedrell and Falla, and on the other from such contemporary masters as Bartók and Stravinsky. This was the idiom whose major achievements included the ‘Ballet Catalan’ Soirées de Barcelone, the ballet Don Quixote, the Violin Concerto and the opera The Duenna.

In the complex formation of Gerhard's personal language the influence of his last and greatest master, Schoenberg, had seemed to remain subordinate, almost suppressed. Yet Schoenbergian precepts had always been observed in his profound level of craftsmanship; and certain highly chromatic, quasi-serial passages, emerging as it were surreptitiously in these and other works, confirmed the enduring background presence of Gerhard's studies in Vienna and Berlin. In fact, Gerhard never ceased to venerate Schoenberg and remained in cordial contact with most of the leading figures of the Second Viennese School.[citation needed] He continued to study and meditate upon the implications of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. After The Duenna he turned to it more decisively, as if he had finally absorbed it and made it his own. In a notable series of works, such as the First Symphony and First String Quartet, which began to win him real international recognition for the first time, it became his principal mode of discourse. And simultaneously he developed it in new and personal directions, combining pitch-series with duration-series and a boldly exploratory attitude to sound and texture.[citation needed]

In one sense, this was a move towards greater abstraction. Yet the ‘Spanish’, folkloric elements were not necessarily rejected. Rather they reappear in new perspectives, more symbolic, less anecdotal in effect—just as, in painting, they recur as motifs in the work of Gerhard's compatriots Picasso and Miro. This transitional period eventually gave birth to the strikingly original music of Gerhard's final decade, where serialism itself dissolves into a freely-associating continuum of colour and rhythm, and the Spanish turns of phrase may still surprise us with sudden nostalgia or dreamlike fantasy.[citation needed]

Gerhard often said that he stood by the sound of his music: 'in music the sense is in the sound'.[3] Yet dazzling as their scoring is, his last works are in no sense a mere succession of sonic events. Their forms are meticulously organized and several make use of his special development of serialism where a twelve-tone pitch series, governing intervallic relations, interacts with a twelve-fold time series governing the music's duration and proportions.[4] Whereas in the Third and Fourth Symphonies, for instance, these techniques result in music of majesty and high drama, in the Concerto for Orchestra the element of play, of inordinate instrumental virtuosity enjoyed for its own sake, is paramount.[citation needed]

Selected List of Works


  • Symphony ‘Homenatge a Pedrell’ (1941)
  • Symphony No.1 (1952–53)
  • Symphony No.2 (1957–59); recomposition as Metamorphosis, unfinished (1967–68)
  • Symphony No.3 Collages (for orchestra and tape) (1960)
  • Symphony No.4 ‘New York’ (1967)
  • Symphony No.5 (fragment only) (1969)
  • (for Chamber Symphony ‘Leo’ see Chamber Music)

Stage Works

  • Ariel, Ballet (1934)
  • Soirées de Barcelone, ballet in three tableaux (1937–39; edited and orchestration completed by Malcolm MacDonald, 1996)
  • Don Quixote (original version 1940-41, rev. 1947-49)
  • Alegrias, Divertissement flamenco (1942)
  • Pandora (1943–44, orch. 1944-45)
  • The Duenna, opera after Sheridan (1947–49). The Bielefeld Opera and conductor Geoffrey Moull performed La Duenna in a new production in 1994. The Wiener Zeitung at the time remarked that the work is "a rediscoverd stroke of genius".[5]
  • El barbarillo de Lavapies, arrangement and orchestration of the zarzuela (1874) by Francisco Barbieri (1954)
  • Lamparilla, German-language Singspiel loosely based on El barbarillo de Lavapies with additional music and original overture by Gerhard (1955–56)


  • Concertino for string orchestra (1929)
  • Violin Concerto (1942–43)
  • Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra (1951)
  • Concerto for Harpsichord, String Orchestra and Percussion (1955–56)
  • Concerto for Orchestra (1965)

Orchestral Works

  • Albada, Interludi i Dansa (1936)
  • Epithalamium (1966)
  • Various suites from Soirées de Barcelone, Don Quixote, Alegrias, Pandora

Chamber and Instrumental Music

  • Sonatine a Carlos, piano (1914)
  • Trio in B major for violin, cello and piano (1918)
  • Trio (‘no.2’) for violin, cello and piano (1918)
  • Dos Apunts, piano (1921–22)
  • 3 string quartets composed up to 1928 (all lost; 'No.3' (1928) was reworked as the Concertino for strings)
  • Sonata, clarinet and piano (1928; also version for bass clarinet and piano)
  • Wind Quintet (1928)
  • Andantino, clarinet, violin and piano (period 1928-9)
  • String Quartet No.1 (1950–55)
  • Sonata, viola and piano (1948; recomposed 1956 as sonata for cello and piano)
  • Capriccio, solo flute (1949)
  • 3 Impromptus, piano (1950)
  • Secret People (study for the film score) for clarinet, violin and piano (1951–52)
  • Nonet (1956–57)
  • Fantasia, guitar (1957)
  • String Quartet No.2 (1961–62)
  • Concert for 8 (1962)
  • Chaconne, violin solo (1959)
  • Hymnody for large wind ensemble, two pianos and percussion (1963)
  • Gemini, Duo for violin and piano (1966)
  • Libra, sextet (1968)
  • Leo, Chamber Symphony (1969)

Vocal Works

  • L’infantament meravellós de Shahrazada Song-cycle for voice and piano, op.1 (1916–18)
  • Verger de les galanies for voice and piano (1917–18)
  • 7 Haiku for voice and ensemble (1922 rev. 1958)
  • 14 Cançons populars catalanes for voice and piano (1928–29; six numbers orchestrated 1931 as 6 Cançons Populars Catalanes)
  • L’alta naixenca del Rei en Jaume, cantata for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra (1932)
  • Cancionero de Pedrell for voice and piano or chamber orchestra (1941)
  • 3 Canciones Toreras for voice and orchestra (c.1943) [composed under pseudonym ‘Juan Serralonga’]
  • 6 Chansons populaires françaises for voice and piano (1944)
  • The Akond of Swat for voice and percussion (1954)
  • Cantares for voice and guitar (1962; incorporates Fantasia for guitar)
  • The Plague, cantata for narrator, chorus and orchestra, after Camus (1963–64)

Electronic Music

  • Audiomobiles I-IV (1958–59)
  • Lament for the death of Bullfighter for speaker and tape (1959)
  • 10 Pieces for tape (c.1961)
  • Sculptures I-V (1963)
  • DNA in Reflection (1963)
  • Anger of Achilles (1964) with Delia Derbyshire[1]
  • also tape component in Symphony No.3 and in many film, radio and theatre scores

Fantasias on themes from Zarzuelas

(for light orchestra; composed c.1943 under the pseudonym ‘Juan Serralonga’)

  • Cadiz, after Chuca & Valverde (1943)
  • Gigantes y Cabezudos, after Caballero (c.1943)
  • La Viejecita, after Caballero (c.1943)


  • Gerhard, Roberto, and Meirion Bowen. 2000. Gerhard on Music: Selected Writings, edited by Meirion Bowen. Aldershot [Hants, UK] and Burlington [Vermont]: Ashgate. ISBN 0754600092
  • Homs, Joaquim. 1991. Robert Gerhard i la seva obra. Barcelona: Biblioteca de Catalunya. ISBN 8478451099
  • London Sinfonietta. 1974. Programme book for The complete Instrumental and Chamber Music of Arnold Schoenberg and Roberto Gerhard. London: London Sinfonietta.


  1. ^ But NB that his Piano Trio was published in Paris in 1921 as by 'Roberto Gerhard'.
  2. ^ "Roberto Gerhard Biography". Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  3. ^ Composer's Note to the published score of Libra, Oxford University Press 1970; other programme notes have the same statement in varying words and word-orders
  4. ^ See Gerhard, 'Functions of the series in twelve-note composition', originally a talk given at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, reprinted in Gerhard and Bowen 2000,[citation needed].
  5. ^ Theater in Bielefeld 1975-1998, Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld, Redaktion Heidi Wiese, Heiner Bruns, Alexander Gruber, Fritz Stockmeier 1998, ISBN 3-933040-03-5

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Roberto Gerhard. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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