Roberto Gerhard: Concertino for strings (1927-8)

published for the first time by Trito Edicions, Barcelona edited by Meirion Bowen


Roberto Gerhard's Concertino for strings was first performed by a string orchestra conducted by the composer at a concert organised by the Associacio de Musica de Catalana in Barcelona on 22 December, 1929 at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The concert marked Gerhard's return to Barcelona after a five-year period of studies in Vienna and Berlin with Arnold Schoenberg. It amounted to a kind of retrospective of his recent compositions. As such, it proved demanding for both performers and listeners unacclimatized to the latest innovations in musical technique. Press criticisms of the concert were at best ambivalent, showing particular hostility towards Gerhard's Wind Quintet. Francesc Trabal (in the Diari de Sabadell) thought it wise that a plan to give the concert also in Sabadell had been abandoned, as the audience there would have been quite mystified. As regards the Concertino, the mixed feelings expressed by the correspondent of la nau were typical:

'The Concertino is better constructed and has more personality, but it lacks some of the vitality of character that makes works pleasant and lasting.'

Perhaps sharing this view, Gerhard chose not to have the piece published and subsequently the score was lost. The Concertino has been re-constructed now from the original string parts, which are held in the Gerhard archives at the Insitut d'Estudis Vallencs at Valls. It is published for the first time with the permission of the Gerhard Estate.

This edition goes beyond what was originally performed, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it seems evident that Gerhard was undecided as to whether he was writing a string quartet or a piece for string orchestra. The Valls archives contains, indeed, the manuscript of the quartet version of the slow central movement. Some of the instrumental parts of the Concertino are also marked 'String Quartet No.3', but if this was the composer's third youthful attempt at a work for the medium, its predecessors do not seem to have survived. There are many passages in the work which are better suited to solo strings; clearly, too, the original contrabass part was more an afterthought than a carefully conceived and integrated line. The original dynamic markings are generally inadequate, often incorrect or misleading. Sometimes they are extreme in the manner of Mahler's (i.e. intended for lethargic performers who are inclined to ignore such markings!). Sometimes, also, they are intended to correct imbalances in an ensemble some of whose players were weaker than others (violas, especially!).

This edition of the Concertino does not change any of the actual notes. Rather, it is aimed at making the piece as effective as possible for the string orchestra medium, thus ensuring that it receives wide performance. It also takes account of the fact that modern chamber orchestras tend to be more familiar with the techniques of early twentieth-century music - those found in the music of Schoenberg, Bartok and Stravinsky, for instance - than were their counterparts in the Barcelona of 1929. In making this edition, I should like to acknowledge advice received from the violinist Peter Sheppard.

The changes to the original are as follows:

  1. A number of passages are meant to be played by soloists only and these are identified in the score.
  2. New dynamic markings have been added throughout and the original ones adjusted accordingly.
  3. The contrabass part has been enlarged, doubling the cello either at the same pitch or at an octave lower far more often than in the original. In the first movement, the cello part has been transposed up an octave from bars 124 to the first semiquaver of bar 129; likewise, from bar 131 to the first semiquaver of bar 134. Where appropriate, some pizzicato markings have been also changed to arco.
  4. In general, the style of the work is quite Bartok-ian. Gerhard may well have already heard Bartok's String Quartets 3 and 4 around this time (see his articles in Mirador, nos. 105/106, February 1931). With this in mind, in the third movement, I have added glissandi to the leaping motif introduced by the violins in bar 52 and taken up by the rest of the ensemble, continuing to bar 78. This enhances the Bartok-ian character of the episode. Most of the leaps, here, would also be played on a single string and it was a characteristic of the performance style of the period that portamenti would be used in their execution.
  5. Furthermore, the episodes between bars 100-123 of this movement have been modified to make greater use of sul ponticello - a coloruful feature that is consistent with the Bartok-ian emphasis of the music.

  6. The string fingerings in the original parts have been removed. They betray only the unfamiliarity of the players with music outside classic and romantic styles and are indeed an obstacle to accurate execution. A few suggestions as to which strings should be used have, however, been included.
  7. The recommended minimum of players is as follows:

    5 Violins I
    5 Violins II
    4 Violas
    3 Cellos
    1 or 2 Contrabasses

Scores and orchestral material for are available from:

Trito Edicions S.L.
Avinguida de la Catedral 3
08002 Barcelona
Tel: (34) 93 342 6175
Fax (34) 93 302 2670

© Meirion Bowen (1998)