About this Recording
8.223867 - GERHARD: Piano Music (Complete)

Roberto Gerhard (1896 -1970) Piano Music

Roberto Gerhard (1896 - 1970)

Piano Music


As one might expect from a pupil of Granados and Pedrell, Gerhard's linguistic starting-point was the somewhat limited conventions of the Spanish Nationalist tradition. It was the Dos Apunts (1921-1922) for piano, the earliest of the music here recorded, that signalled the first abrupt change in direction. Written at the end of a four years silence following Gerhard's withdrawal from Spanish musical life, these aphoristic "sketches" are symbolic landmarks not only in his own development but, retrospectively, in that of twentieth century Spanish music. Their epigrammatic concision and protoserial tendencies were unprecedented in Spanish music and reveal a significant change in musical vocabulary, suggesting the influence of Schoenberg as well as Scriabin. Though an obvious Spanish accent is not discernible, their freely chromatic melodic style does reflect the modal evocations of Catalan folk-song rather than the distorted contours of Viennese expressionism. In the second Apunt, Gerhard even quotes, in a characteristically dissonant harmonic context, EI Coti/l6, a Catalan folk-song that came to symbolize for him the theme of "exile", both spiritual and physical: it would reappear many times in Gerhard's output culminating in a final, valedictory appearance in the Fourth Symphony of 1967.


Soirees de Barcelone (1936-38) was commissioned by Colonel de Basil' s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1936 at the outset of the Spanish civil war, but was shelved following the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and the dissolution of i de Basil's company. Thankfully Gerhard was to extract a suite of dances from the ballet during the more propitious circumstances of the 1950s and it is this version that is performed here. The project was instigated by Antal Dorati and Leonide Massine. The scenario, by the Arts Minister in the Catalan government, Ventura Gassol, is an exercise in Catalan ethnography involving primitive fertility dances and ritual fire ceremonies associated with La nuit de Saint Jean (St John's Eve), one of Catalonia's most important religious festivals and, as such, a profound expression of catalanitat. At no time was the need for such a defiant statement of Catalan identity greater than during the civil war; and it is not surprising that some of Gassol's patriotic fervour should have rubbed off on Gerhard, who identified closely (without ever being narrowly catalanistic) with the aspiration of the Catalan people and their historical struggle for national independence.


Gerhard's music for the ballet is “deliberately Catalan” (and therefore Republican) in sentiment and draws heavily on Catalan folk traditions. It is clear that had the ballet been completed, it could have become as important a document of Catalan culture as stravinsky's Petrushka and Rite of Spring are of Russian culture. Like stravinsky (and unlike Bartok) Gerhard quotes directly authentic native folk-songs and refers to specific ritual dances. All are particularly apt in relation to Gassol’s scenario: for the dances around the cross called for in Tableau 1 (performed, incidentally, by dancers who have been served wine by priests) Gerhard appropriates the music associated with EI ball de l'hereu Riera, an agile sword-dance in which the swords are placed, in the shape of a cross, on a glass of wine; for the opening of the final tableau (L'Aube), surely intended, amongst other things, to be a symbolic dawn heralding a final Catalan/Republican victory, Gerhard counter-points against each other two well known, and rhythmically almost identical, Catalan songs: Muntanyes dei Canigo and Eis segadors. The first refers to Mount Canigo, the symbolic Catalan mountain which is celebrated in Verdaguer's epic poem about the legendary origins of Catalonia, Canig6, and from which shepherds on St. John's night form relays to carry sparks to light other fires all over Catalonia. The second dates back to the war of the Reapers and recalls the confrontation between the troops of Philip IV and the Catalan segadors. It is that most stirring of Catalan songs, the anti-Castilian Song of the Harvesters, a song which became the unofficial national hymn of Catalonia and whose reference to peasants armed with sickles made it a popular communist marching song during the Spanish civil war; for the Fandanguillo des maries of Tableau III (final movement of the suite) Gerhard quotes, in a modified form, a Catalan song which tells of a seventeenth century bandit who roamed the hills around Barcelona and who was imprisoned on St. John's night, a reference, presumably, to Joan de Serrallonga, a Catalan folk- hero who, having been sentenced to death on the orders of the Castilian viceroy, came to be seen as a defender of the rights of the Catalan people against the oppression of Castile; and the ballet was to end with the national dance of Catalonia, a triumphant Sardana (third movement of the suite), with the lovers brought together by Eros during the illicit encounters of St John's night being reconciled with the "grotesque old men" and "scandalised notaries" who had discovered them the night before and dragged them reluctantly back to the village. During the course of this Sardana, Gerhard alludes to the popular Catalan ballad La filla deI marxant and La dansa de Castelltercol, a dance performed to this day in the town of Castelltercol to the accompaniment of the Catalan wind band, or cobla. In the dance the young men of the town offer their fernale partners to dance with the mayor, the parish priest and the chief of police; and it was this, an essentially communal statement of Catalan national consciousness, which was to bring Gerhard's Ballet CataIan to its conclusion.


Gerhard transcribed the suite of Dances from Don Quixote for piano in 1947 from the unperformed hour-long ballet score that he had composed in 1940-41 to his own scenario. The ballet was first performed, in a new "definitive" version, in 1950 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, by the Sadler's Wells Company with choreography by Ninette de Valois, decor by the British surrealist Edward Burra and with Robert Helpman and Margot Fonteyn in the principal roles.


Gerhard's ballet is a Spanish complement to Strauss's tone-poem on the same subject but offers a more profoundly psychological interpretation of Cervantes' Knight. Don Quixote's dual personality is symbolized by a Catalan-sounding furioso theme but from which Gerhard extracts a serial abstract to represent the delusions and obsessions of the Don's inner world: a typical example of Gerhard's effortless synthesis of Schoenbergian and Spanish elements. The fact that the Don's theme reveals (as the composer acknowledged) a close kinship to processional music performed by a Catalan folk-oboe (or gralla) in Gerhard's home town of Valls is significant, suggesting that the composer identified, albeit subconsciously, with Cervantes' immortal knight. In his notebooks, the composer reminds us that "Don Quixote's tragic fight is to keep his belief in himself and his mission alive". It is a struggle that the Gerhard of 1940-41, a refugee from Franco's Spain now settled in Cambridge, would have acutely understood.


1. Introduction. Excerpts form scene 1 of the ballet which is set in a bare room and shows the sleepwalking knight, wrapped in a sheet and brandishing a sword, in the middle of one of his hallucinatory fits. In the vision, Don Quixote transforms Aldonza Lorenzo, a peasant-girl from the neighbouring village, into the idealised Dulcinea, mistress of his thoughts. A transitional allegretto introduces Sancho Panza, the Don’s squire in his journey of knight errantry, who helps his master put on his armour. Together, the Don and Sancho sally forth to seek adventures.


2. Dance of the Muleteers. At a dubious wayside inn muleteers and country wenches are dancing a Seguidilla manchega to the music of an appropriately licentious Tonone from the tonadilla, EI Pretendiente (1780) by Pablo Esteve y Grimau. Their boisterous merry-making is disturbed by the arrival of Don Quixote (and his fortissimo theme) who, in his delirium, mistakes the inn for an enchanted castle and the dancers for lords and ladies in distress. He begs the innkeeper to dub him a knight and, to humour him, the innkeeper consents.


3. The golden age. A Iyrical pas de deux danced by an idealised shepherd and shepherdess illustrates the tale of a utopian "Golden Age" told by the Don to some goatherds who had kindly entertained him for supper.


4. The Cave of Montesinos. Don Quixote is lowered into the Cave of Montesinos where, having fallen asleep, he mistakenly believes himself to be transported into an enchanted subterranean palace. There he witnesses the daily procession of Lady Belerma and her attendants who mourn the famous Knight Durandarte. Don Quixote is led to the sarcophagus and introduced to the recumbent Durandarte as a renowned spellbreaker, only to be contemptuously dismissed. Another shock awaits the Don as Dulcinea, in the form of the peasant-girl Aldonza, appears to him and provocatively offers to exchange her petticoat for money. The Knight is appalled, his faith in his mission fatally shaken. The music Gerhard composed for this scene is particularly apt: a canonic introducci6n is followed by an appropriately aristocratic Chacona de Palacio (based on a seven-bar ground) above which Gerhard quotes two vernacular folk-songs from Salina's sixteenth century treatise, De Musica Libri Septem, appropriate music indeed with which to personify the wanton Aldonza.


Subsequent scenes (omitted from the suite) describe events leading to the Don's final disenchantment.


5. Epilogue. Excerpts from the finale. Don Quixote lies dying, his sanity restored. The grief-stricken Sancho kneels before a visionary apparition of Dulcinea with a gesture of impassioned appeal.


Three Impromptus


The late 1940s were, with the renewed interest in Schoenbergian serialism in particular, a turning-point in the work of many "middle generation" composers including Messiaen, Carter, Cage and, as the 12-note Three Impromptus (1950) confirm, Gerhard himself. They are light-weight character studies of the Earl of Harewood, his wife, and an "expected third human being" (hence the central Catalan lullaby) and were presented to the couple as a wedding-present. From the purely technical point of view their main interest lies in the fact that Gerhard does not employ the series thematically, but exploits to good effect his very personal, permutational 12-note technique; and it is as if to demonstrate the flexibility of his technique that, in the first Impromptu an Andalusian fandanguillo, the composer imitates guitar textures, subtly develops the polymodal implications of the row's hexachordal structure and even integrates Spanish popular songs into the 12-note texture (a Polo from Manuel Garcia's tonadilla, EI Contrabandista, and an Andalusian folk-song, Los Pelegrinitos arranged by Lorca in one of his song collections: an early example in I Gerhard's late works of folk-song used not only as a means of affirming his national roots, but of ensuring a safeguard against w hat he regarded as "the dehumanising tendencies of a purely intellectual approach to composition".


@ 1994 Julian White



Roberto Gerhard was born at Valls on 25th September 1896. From childhood he showed a great interest in music and at the age of seventeen gave up his business studies in Lausanne that his parents had made him pursue to enter the Royal Academy in Munich. The war of 1914 compelled him to return to his own country , where he completed his piano studies with Granados in 1915 and 1916 and his composition studies from 1915 to 1920 with Felip Pedrell, an important musicologist responsible for a revival of interest in folk-song and old Spanish polyphony, the teacher of Albeniz and Falla.


The first published works of Gerhard were the two Ciclos de canciones (1917-19) and the Piano Trio (1918-1920), compositions that showed his deep musicality .After the death of Pedrell in 1922 he embarked on a new stage with the Dos apunts for piano and the seven Haiku for voice and instrumental accompaniment, refreshing works of great beauty. This short transitional period was followed by travel to various cities of Spain and Europe, ending with the sending of a long letter to Schoenberg, accompanied by his most recent compositions, asking to be accepted as a pupil. After a successful preliminary interview he attended the latter's classes in Vienna and Berlin during the years from 1923 to 1928. In 1929 he returned to Barcelona, where he gave a concert of his latest works, among them the Wind Quintet (1928), in which he used in a very personal way the serial technique with which he had begun to experiment in 1923 and 1924, based on the constant rotation of the series of twelve notes and the fundamental unity of melody and harmony.


In 1930 Gerhard married Leopoldina (Poldi) Fleichtegger, from Vienna, and settled in Barcelona. The period was one of economic crisis and political change in the city, leading to the proclamation of the Republic in 1931 and the Civil War from 1936 to 1939, and the subsequent establishment of a dictatorship that lasted until 1975.


In the years from 1930 to 1938 Gerhard composed the cantata L' alta naixent;a deI Rei En Jaume on a text by the poet J. Carner, the music for two ballets, Ariel and Soirees de Barcelona and Albada interludi i dansa for orchestra as well as various songs. He also undertook various musicological projects for the Biblioteca de Catalunya, was a member of the Consell de Musica, collaborated in various editions and translated German writings of musical interest, arranging for Schoenberg to spend eight months in Barcelona, during which he wrote the greater part of the second act of his opera Moses und Aron and his last piece for piano.


At the beginning of 1939, shortly before the end of the Spanish Civil War, the Gerhards decided to leave the country. They first went to Paris and Meudon, and then, in June, to Cambridge, where they spent the rest of their lives, with the exception of two journeys abroad to the United States of America to give courses in composition and some holidays in Catalunya. During the first ten years of his stay in England (six of them during the World War) Gerhard wrote the greater part of his music of national inspiration to obtain I commissions from the BBC, which brought him immediately great prestige, similar to that of Falla. His principal works during this period were Sinfonia homenaje a Pedrell (1941), music for the ballets Alegrias (1942), Pandora, Don Quixote (1947) and the Violin Concerto (1942-45), with the opera The Duenna (1942-47), a work that only had a concert performance during his lifetime, to have a highly successful full staging in 1992,22 years after the composer's death.


During the three final years of this first period of residence in Cambridge (1949-53) Gerhard limited his compositional activity to the creation of the final version of the ballet Don Quixote, a work that was very well received, and to the writing of a Viola Sonata and incidental music for two plays by Shakespeare. The principal reason for this break in creative activity was the necessity of re- examining his position with regard to Schoenbergian technique in the light of new heterodox theories of serialism that had been produced in Europe and America, at the same time that his musical thought was enriched by intense exploration in the field of philosophy, science and literature, subjects that always greatly interested him.


The first result of his reflexions in the field of music were heard in the Capriccio for flute (1949), the three Impromptus for piano of 1950 and the two first movements of the String Quartet (1951), culminating in the Symphony No.1 first performed at the I.S.C.M. meeting in Baden in 1955, the fifth work that he had had performed at festivals of the international contemporary music organization.


From the end of that year, when he already enjoyed great prestige in England, until1959, he explored in his works the possibilities of Schoenberg's serial technique in metre and rhythm in the structure of his compositions. Gerhard made use of these developed techniques in the two last movements of his Quintet No.1, in the Nonet of 1957 and in his Symphony No.2 (1957-59).


In the 1950s Gerhard also interested himself in musique concrete and electronic music, which he first used in various commissions for the theatre and cinema and finally, in 1960, in the Symphony No.3 (Collages) commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation. In this work Gerhard added to the orchestra an electronic score transmitted through an amplifier.


In the first years of the 1960s Gerhard made two journeys to the United States, the first to the University of Michigan, where he composed his String Quartet No.2, and the second to Templewood, where he w rote his Concerto para 8.


In the three following years at Cambridge he w rote Hymnody, for instrumental ensemble, the cantata La Peste for a BBC commission, and his Concerto tor orchestra for the Cheltenham Festival, with a total of six very important works in six years, not including the numerous commissions for theatre, cinema and television.


Finally, during the last four years of his life, he was able to refuse commercial I commissions and in spite of his weak physical condition he wrote six important and very significant works, Epitalamio for orchestra and Gemini for violin and piano in 1966, Symphony No.4 (New York) , Metamorfosis for orchestra (a revision of Symphony No.2) (1967-68), Libra (1968) and Leo (1969) for instrumental ensemble, and when he died on 5th January 1970 he had started a Symphony No.5 and planned a String Quartet No.3.


As can be seen from this brief summary of the life and work of Gerhard, in spite of difficult circumstances he never failed to respond with originality and creativity to new musical situations, climates and currents, always moving forward. Altogether he wrote 120 works, including music commissioned for the stage, radio and television. Among these the most remarkable are those that he w rote in the last stage of his life, conceived in a single polymorphic movement that demonstrated the best qualities of his music with extraordinary power.


Joaquim Homs (English version by Keith Anderson)


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