Born: Sep 25, 1896 in Valls, Spain
Dead: Jan 5, 1970 in Cambridge, England
Genre: Keyboard Music, Chamber Music, Symphony, Orchestral Music
The first major Spanish musician to ally himself with Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School, Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard nevertheless developed a wholly individual musical language that drew equally from serial techniques, traditional tonal syntax, and the powerful Spanish tradition into which he was born. Born in 1896 to a family of Swiss origin, Gerhard showed evidence of musical skill at an early age. Although his parents were not supportive of his wish to make a serious study of music (and even sent him away to Switzerland to discourage him from this course), by age nineteen Gerhard was studying privately with two of the most prominent Spanish musicians of the early twentieth century: pianist Enrique Granados and composer Felipe Pedrell. Gerhard's work with Granados was cut short by the latter's tragic death aboard the H.M.S. Sussex (which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1916), but he continued to study with Pedrell until 1922, when, in an effort to broaden his musical horizons, he relocated to Vienna.
In Vienna, Gerhard found his way into Schoenberg's circle, of which he remained an active part (even moving to Berlin when Schoenberg was made a professor in that city) until his return to Barcelona in 1929. Gerhard was offered a position on the faculty of the Ecola Normal de la Generalitat in 1931, and from 1932 on was a member of the Advisory Council to the Catalan Minister of Fine Arts. Although performances of his music at ISCM festivals throughout the 1930s had begun to earn Gerhard a more international reputation as a composer, the outbreak of civil war in 1938 and subsequent defeat of the Republican forces (of which Gerhard was a supporter, having even served on the Central Music Council of the Spanish Republican Government in 1937) forced Gerhard to flee the country. He eventually found his way to Great Britain.
Gerhard remained virtually unknown to the musical public of his adopted country for the next 15 years, and even the majority of British composers were unaware of his presence at Cambridge (where Gerhard had been offered a research scholarship by Cambridge historian and musicologist Edward Dent). By the mid-'50s, however, further ISCM performances and the premiere of his Symphony No. 1 in Baden-Baden (1955) resulted in an increased awareness of Gerhard's merits as a composer; from 1960 until his death in 1970 he served as visiting professor and composer-in-residence at universities and festivals around the globe (including the Tanglewood Music Center and the University of Michigan). He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1967 and a Fellow of University College, Cambridge the following year.
Gerhard's earliest music, such as the Seven Haiku for voice and chamber group (on the strength of which he earned a place in Schoenberg's class) show a wide range of influences. By the end of Gerhard's time with Schoenberg he had begun to assimilate certain serial ideas; pieces like the Wind Quintet of 1928, however, show Gerhard's reluctance to use strict 12-tone techniques. It would not be until the 1950s that Gerhard fully synthesized his own very textural and atmospheric style with a more rigorous 12-tone underpinning. After his emigration to Great Britain in 1939, Gerhard made most of his income composing scores for various television, film, theater and radio productions; the composer's lighter side can be seen in a group of arrangements he made (under a pseudonym) of Spanish popular tunes in 1943.
- Blair Johnston (All Music Guide)