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Gerhard: Libra (1968)

Listening exercise – Roberto Gerhard's Libra (1968)

Listening exercise

For this listening exercise, we will look at Roberto Gerhard’s composition ‘Libra’.

This piece was the start of a series of works named after different zodiac signs, however he only completed three (Gemini, Libra, and Leo) before he passed away. Libra was written after Gerhard has spent over a decade immersing himself in electronic music, and so it’s interesting to consider how electronics might have shaped his process here. Have a listen to the piece and try to think about how Gerhard is combining different sounds.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

The instrumentation here is for a sextet, for flute (and piccolo), clarinet, guitar, percussion (glockenspiel, wood blocks, cymbals, xylophone, vibraphone, Korean blocks, bass drum, and timpani), piano, and violin. As you can probably hear, this allows Gerhard to create a pretty wide range of sound combinations across the duration of the piece. We can hear the vertical arrangement of different instrumental timbres mimicking ideas in his electronic music, whilst the melodic and rhythmic ideas evoke elements of Catalonian folk music, fused into a new compositional language.

Looking at the form of the piece, ‘Libra’ is one continuous movement divided into contrasting sections. This is not too dissimilar to a lot of Gerhard’s earlier electronic music, which we will look at over the next couple of lessons. The key difference here is that the harmonies and melodies are far less abstract, retaining a functional purpose that follows an understanding of wider musical theory. That’s not to say this music is predictable in any way, it’s not. Gerhard here masterfully takes serialist techniques and processes and repurposes them to vary his harmonic materials so that a distinctive sonic character emerges from the music whilst allowing for continuous harmonic variation.

Over to you

What stood out to you about this piece? How would you describe the musical ideas present in this piece?

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