Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970): Re-appraising a Musical Visionary
2nd-3rd July 2021, University of Huddersfield
Funded by the British Academy
Prof. Monty Adkins (University of Huddersfield)
Dr Rachel Mann (University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley)
This conference, marking the 50th anniversary of the death of the composer Roberto Gerhard will illuminate the multidisciplinary influences on his compositional oeuvre and creative thinking. Gerhard is one of the most prominent Spanish composers of the 20th Century. His creative output encompasses works influenced by Catalan folk music, serialism, works for dance, film and the theatre as well as electronic sound composition. Gerhard studied and travelled widely during his lifetime, living in Spain, Germany, France throughout the 1920-1930s, and from 1939 until his death in 1970, in Cambridge, England. As a result of his travels and his wide-ranging interests, Gerhard came into contact with and was influenced by many of the leading artists, writers, thinkers, choreographers, theatre directors and scientists of his generation. Previous Gerhard scholarship has mainly been exploratory and analytical – it is only in the past decade that his work has begun to receive serious critical attention. This conference seeks to look outwards from Gerhard’s compositions themselves and will explore two key interdisciplinary themes in relation to his life and work: 1) exile; and 2) cultural translation.
Addressing these issues will lead to new insights into how Gerhard’s compositional aesthetic was informed and shaped by the interdisciplinary nature of his cultural interests, his collaborators, his position as a Spanish exile, and how the myriad of resulting cross-connections are reflected in his work.
Roberto Gerhard was born in 1896 in Valls, Spain. Initially he studied piano with Granados and composition with Felipe Pedrell. When Pedrell died in 1922, Gerhard moved to Vienna as a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. Returning to Barcelona in 1928 he became a central figure in the Catalonian avant-garde, befriending such figures as Pablo Casals and Joan Miró. Identified with the Republican cause throughout the Spanish Civil War, Gerhard was forced to flee to France in 1939 and later that year settled in Cambridge, England. Once in England, Gerhard worked as a freelance composer, producing a series of orchestral and stage works that would establish his international reputation. The Symphony (in memory of Pedrell), the ballet Don Quixote, First String Quartet, and the opera The Duenna followed in quick succession. In the 1950s Gerhard developed his musical style, synthesizing Schoenbergian serialism with catalan folksong. These years also marked him out as the first composer in England to engage seriously with electronic music. Gerhard established one of the first private studios in England as well as working extensively at the newly formed BBC Radiophonic Workshop producing a series of abstract electronic works as well as electronic music for stage – most notably his score for the 1955 Royal Shakespeare Production of King Lear and the Prix Italia winning The Anger of Achilles. The last decade of his life saw Gerhard’s musical language evolve still further and the composition of late masterpieces such as the Symphony No. 3 “Collages” with its extensive part for electronic tape, the Concerto for Orchestra, Symphony No. 4 “New York”, the chamber symphony – Leo.