Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1958)


The production of ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’ was the first following the hiring of Tony Richardson. A young Oxbridge graduate, Richardson was a part of the British “New Wave” of directors; working in both film and theatre he was critical of the mainstream theatrical establishment and of the status quo of British society in general. In keeping with this, Richardson’s production of ‘Pericles…’ set the entire play on or around the single set of a large ship, creating what would become a model for thematically unified approaches to the play, an approach which contrasts sharply with more traditional stagings of the work that came before, and the more postmodern deconstructionist stagings that would follow.

In keeping with this intention to present the play not as a sequence of scenes but as a continuous telling of a single story, Gerhard’s score departs from his typical use of dissonant and cluster-based harmonies in favour of the more harmonically ambiguous use of open fifths, pentatonic melodies and static triads. Similar to the works of Claude Debussy, these harmonic choices remove a sense of direction from the music, instead emphasising atmosphere and texture. This material was realised with a number of ancient and folk instruments – including the Tiple, Zumara, Syringa, and Pharaoh Pipes – as well as a range of different percussion. Alongside the music written for scene accompaniment, Gerhard wrote extensive amount of vocal music for the character of Gower, transforming the character’s function from the plays narrator to that of a Greek chorus.

These more conventional musical elements were paired with some of Gerhard’s recordings of wind, thunder and crowd effects, blending the acoustic with the electronic. This effort, Gerhard’s most significant in terms or resources and energy, with the exception of his work for King Lear, was well received. As one reviewer in the Manchester Guardian summarised, “Tony Richardson (producer), Luodon Sainthill (designer), and Roberto Gerhard (music and sound) combine to make an assault of barbaric ferocity on our sensibilities…At times, music pleasantly sweetens our ears, at others, noises remind us of our frailty in the best concrète manner.”

254Audio recording of pipes and percussion for Roberto Gerhard’s soundtrack for ‘Pericles’
265Electronic sound assemblages by Roberto Gerhard, possibly related to the theatre production of ‘Pericles’.