Roberto Gerhard's ballet Don Quixote is heard for the first time in Barcelona in its complete form on 9 and 10 February. The performances of this major work by the Catalan-born composer, based on the classic tale of the knight errant by Cervantes, take place at L'Auditori with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josep Caballé-Domenech. The Barcelona concerts mark an important upbeat to events in 2020 honouring the 50th anniversary of the composer's death.

Born in 1896 at Valls, near Tarragona, Gerhard spent the early part of his creative life in Barcelona until he fled Spain in 1939, eventually settling in Cambridge in the UK. Don Quixote became something of an obsession for the composer, moving through a number of musical guises until it reached its final form in 1950, staged by Sadler's Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London. The ballet was choreographed by Ninette de Valois, with designs by Edward Burra, and Robert Helpmann and Margot Fonteyn dancing the lead roles of Quixote and Dulcinea. Alongside the complete 40-minute ballet score, Gerhard's short suite Dances from Don Quixote soon became established in the orchestral repertoire as his most performed work and is also frequently heard in a popular piano arrangement.

Widely regarded as one of Gerhard's greatest achievements, Don Quixote represents a unique fusion of Spanish themes, both musical and literary, together with the modernist techniques the composer was developing in his early years in exile. It combines the folk music that Gerhard had been inspired to study by his Barcelona teacher Felipe Pedrell, with its distinctive melodies and dance rhythms, and a personal treatment of the serial techniques of his Viennese teacher Arnold Schoenberg. The work is a masterly response to Cervantes's great epic, with colourful characterisation of the lead protagonists, vivid scene-painting, musical explorations of themes of love, illusion and chivalry, and glowing depictions of the Spanish Golden Age.

The sources of Gerhard's Don Quixote sprang from a ballet commission the composer received in 1939, soon after arriving in the UK, from a small-scale touring company and scored for chamber orchestra with two pianos. With the outbreak of the Second World War the troupe was disbanded and the ballet was never staged, though a suite for chamber orchestra was performed in 1941 by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Gerhard utilised his existing music for a BBC radio adaptation of Cervantes's novel in 1944 and created a symphonic suite for full orchestra in 1947, which succeeded both in establishing Gerhard's reputation in Britain and winning him the commission for the full-length ballet premiered at Covent Garden in 1950. Gerhard created the popular orchestral suite Dances from Don Quixote in 1957 but it was to be over three decades before the complete ballet music was reinstated after the composer's death, following the score joining the Boosey & Hawkes catalogue and extensive editorial work by David Drew.

The Spanish premiere of the complete ballet took place in 1989 at the Teatro Real in Madrid with the Orquesta Nacional de España conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and David Drew's new published edition of the score was unveiled at the BBC Proms in 1992 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle. Around the Gerhard centenary in 1996, Antoni Ros-Marbà conducted the complete Don Quixote with the Orquesta Ciudad de Málaga and Víctor Pablo Pérez conducted performances with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife in Santa Cruz, at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

 

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