Roberto Gerhard(1896 - 1970)
As one mightexpect from a pupil of Granados and Pedrell, Gerhard's linguisticstarting-point was the somewhat limited conventions of the Spanish Nationalisttradition. It was the Dos Apunts (1921-1922) for piano, the earliest ofthe music here recorded, that signalled the first abrupt change in direction.
Written at the end of a four years silence following Gerhard's withdrawal fromSpanish musical life, these aphoristic "sketches" are symboliclandmarks not only in his own development but, retrospectively, in that oftwentieth century Spanish music. Their epigrammatic concision and protoserialtendencies were unprecedented in Spanish music and reveal a significant changein musical vocabulary, suggesting the influence of Schoenberg as well asScriabin. Though an obvious Spanish accent is not discernible, their freelychromatic melodic style does reflect the modal evocations of Catalan folk-songrather than the distorted contours of Viennese expressionism. In the second Apunt,Gerhard even quotes, in a characteristically dissonant harmonic context, EICoti/l6, a Catalan folk-song that came to symbolize for him the theme of"exile", both spiritual and physical: it would reappear many times inGerhard's output culminating in a final, valedictory appearance in the FourthSymphony of 1967.
Soirees deBarcelone (1936-38) wascommissioned by Colonel de Basil' s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1936 atthe outset of the Spanish civil war, but was shelved following the outbreak ofWorld War II in 1939 and the dissolution of i de Basil's company. ThankfullyGerhard was to extract a suite of dances from the ballet during the morepropitious circumstances of the 1950s and it is this version that is performedhere. The project was instigated by Antal Dorati and Leonide Massine. Thescenario, by the Arts Minister in the Catalan government, Ventura Gassol, is anexercise in Catalan ethnography involving primitive fertility dances and ritualfire ceremonies associated with La nuit de Saint Jean (St John's Eve),one of Catalonia's most important religious festivals and, as such, a profoundexpression of catalanitat. At no time was the need for such a defiantstatement of Catalan identity greater than during the civil war; and it is notsurprising that some of Gassol's patriotic fervour should have rubbed off onGerhard, who identified closely (without ever being narrowly catalanistic) withthe aspiration of the Catalan people and their historical struggle for nationalindependence.
Gerhard's musicfor the ballet is \deliberately Catalan" (and therefore Republican) insentiment and draws heavily on Catalan folk traditions. It is clear that hadthe ballet been completed, it could have become as important a document ofCatalan culture as stravinsky's Petrushka and Rite of Spring areof Russian culture. Like stravinsky (and unlike Bartok) Gerhard quotes directlyauthentic native folk-songs and refers to specific ritual dances. All areparticularly apt in relation to Gassol's scenario: for the dances around thecross called for in Tableau 1 (performed, incidentally, by dancers who havebeen served wine by priests) Gerhard appropriates the music associated with EIball 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 finaltableau (L'Aube), surely intended, amongst other things, to be asymbolic dawn heralding a final Catalan/Republican victory, Gerhardcounter-points against each other two well known, and rhythmically almostidentical, Catalan songs: Muntanyes dei Canigo and Eis segadors. Thefirst refers to Mount Canigo, the symbolicCatalan mountain which is celebrated in Verdaguer's epic poem about thelegendary origins of Catalonia, Canig6, and from which shepherdson St. John's night form relays to carry sparks to lightother fires all over Catalonia. The second dates back to the war of theReapers and recalls the confrontation between the troops of Philip IV and theCatalan segadors. It is that most stirring of Catalan songs, theanti-Castilian Song of the Harvesters, a song which became the unofficialnational hymn of Catalonia and whose reference to peasants armed with sicklesmade it a popular communist marching song during the Spanish civil war; for theFandanguillo des maries of Tableau III (final movement of the suite)Gerhard quotes, in a modified form, a Catalan song which tells of a seventeenthcentury bandit who roamed the hills around Barcelona and who was imprisoned onSt. John's night, a reference, presumably, to Joan de Serrallonga, a Catalanfolk- hero who, having been sentenced to death on the orders of the Castilianviceroy, came to be seen as a defender of the rights of the Catalan peopleagainst the oppression of Castile; and the ballet was to end with the nationaldance of Catalonia, a triumphant Sardana (third movement of the suite),with the lovers brought together by Eros during the illicit encounters of StJohn's night being reconciled with the "grotesque old men" and"scandalised notaries" who had discovered them the night before anddragged them reluctantly back to the village. During the course of this Sardana,Gerhard alludes to the popular Catalan ballad La filla deI marxant andLa dansa de Castelltercol, a dance performed to this day in the town ofCastelltercol to the accompaniment of the Catalan wind band, or cobla. Inthe dance the young men of the town offer their fernale partners to dance withthe mayor, the parish priest and the chief of police; and it was this, an essentiallycommunal statement of Catalan national consciousness, which was to bringGerhard's Ballet CataIan to its conclusion.
Gerhardtranscribed the suite of Dances from Don Quixote for piano in 1947 fromthe unperformed hour-long ballet score that he had composed in 1940-41 to hisown 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 byNinette de Valois, decor by the British surrealist Edward Burra and with RobertHelpman and Margot Fonteyn in the principal roles.
Gerhard's balletis a Spanish complement to Strauss's tone-poem on the same subject but offers amore profoundly psychological interpretation of Cervantes' Knight. Don Quixote'sdual personality is symbolized by a Catalan-sounding furioso theme butfrom which Gerhard extracts a serial abstract to represent the delusions andobsessions of the Don's inner world: a typical example of Gerhard's effortlesssynthesis of Schoenbergian and Spanish elements. The fact that the Don's themereveals (as the composer acknowledged) a close kinship to processional musicperformed 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 hisnotebooks, the composer reminds us that "Don Quixote's tragic fight is tokeep his belief in himself and his mission alive". It is a strugglethat the Gerhard of 1940-41, a refugee from Franco's Spainnow settled in Cambridge, would have acutely understood.
Excerpts form scene 1 of the b