Roberto Gerhard

Title page of an autograph copy of Gerhard’s Capriccio for solo flute

Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) settled in Cambridge in 1940, after the Spanish civil war. Although main recognition of his achievements came perhaps later in his career, he has long been widely acknowledged as a key figure in the development of music at the time. His compositions contain both Catalan and European, folkloric and modernist dimensions and from the 1950s onwards Gerhard contributed significantly to serialism and electronic composition, which he described as “sound composition”.

The Roberto Gerhard Archive is therefore one of the most significant music archives held at Cambridge University Library; it contains music manuscripts, correspondence, papers and diaries, programmes and reviews, photographs, sound recordings and books and scores from Gerhard’s library.

The first Roberto Gerhard music manuscripts were deposited at Cambridge University Library in the early 1970s by his widow Leopoldina Gerhard. In the 1990s archival materials, additional music manuscripts and a large collection of reel-to-reel tapes were deposited. In 2008 all items were formally donated to Cambridge University Library by Dr. Rosemary Summers.

In 2018, we were fortunate enough to acquire two significant additions to our Gerhard collections. We received a donation from Gerhard scholar Rachel Mitchell, who offered us eight reel-to-reel tapes containing performances of Gerhard’s music. The tapes came to us already digitized by the research team in Huddersfield and form a great addition to the original reel-to-reel collection.

Another addition was the purchase of a Gerhard autograph of Capriccio for solo flute. The piece was composed in 1949 at the invitation of Edward Clark, then president of the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM), and performed by Edward Walker. (Musical Times, Winter 2017, p. 34).  It has been performed several times since and was, amongst others, included in a Gerhard memorial concert reviewed by Stanley Sadie. (“Gerhard’s mastery.” Times [London, England] 6 Mar. 1970: 13. The Times Digital Archive).

Inscription to Carleton Sprague-Smith by Roberto Gerhard

The manuscript is of great interest, particularly since it contains differences, mostly rhythmic but also in pitch, compared to the 1964 printed Mills edition. It has been in a private collection for many years.  The original owner, Carleton Sprague Smith, was a musicologist, flautist and music librarian with a strong interest in Hispanic culture. He held many significant posts in musical and cultural organizations.  The manuscript bears Gerhard’s autograph inscription to him.

In Capriccio, a piece characterized by melodic writing, we can see an example of Gerhard’s use of serial technique. Denis Nelson describes in his article in the Musical Times how he came to know and appreciate the piece: “The work is freely dodecaphonic and announces the series in the opening bars… It may well be the first 12-note piece for solo flute”. He visited Roberto Gerhard and performed it for him in 1965, receiving feedback that would inspire his future performances.

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1 Response to Roberto Gerhard

  1. Pingback: 2018: That was the year that was… | MusiCB3 Blog

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