Robert Herberigs studied at the Ghent Royal Conservatory with Oscar Roels (solfège) and Léon Van der Haeghen (singing) amongst others. With Leo Moeremans he studied composition as a private pupil, preparing for the Prize of Rome competition. After having won a "first second prize" both in 1905 and 1907, the jury under the chairmanship of Edgar Tinel unanimously awarded him the first prize in 1909. At the audition of his winning Prize of Rome cantata De legende van Sint Herbertus, Herberigs wrote history by singing the title role himself. As a matter of fact in those years he was associated as first baritone with the Antwerp Flemish Opera. There in 1909 he created the title role in August De Boeck's opera Reinaert de Vos.
With the grant connected to the Prize of Rome Herberigs went to Paris, Berlin and Vienna. As a composer he acquired a reputation with Cyrano de Bergerac (1912), a crossing between a horn concerto and a symphonic poem.
During the First World War Herberigs stayed at Jan Toorop's house in Domburg in the Netherlands. There he finished the opera Le mariage de Rosine, created by the Ghent opera in 1925. After the war he oriented himself towards French impressionism. The piano works he wrote in the early twenties refer to Debussy and Ravel: Trois ballades, Pièces brèves, Poèmes élégiaques, and the suites A la fontaine bellerie and Ariane (dedicated to Ravel). Herberigs's piano scores, with their busy notations often fanned out over three staffs, contain music which is exacting and powerful. It is characterised by fauvist contrasts and a strong dynamic, the melodic line constantly being interrupted or even virtually disappearing. In the same spirit he composed between 1922 and 1924 the impressionistic song cycle La chanson d'Eve, on poems by Charles Van Lerberghe.
In the late twenties Herberigs mainly wrote sacred music, while in the early thirties he got totally captivated by neo-classicism, as is obvious in his more sober notation and his reverting to the classical form. In that vein he composed a Violin Sonata (1939), a Piano Concerto (1932) and a Clarinet Sonata (1939). Concurrently, since 1925, he divided his time between his residence in Oudenaarde and Bourg-Saint-Andéol in the Ardèche (France), where he successfully ran a fruitful apricot plantation. During the Second World War he mainly composed piano music in his castle-farm in the Rhone valley.
After this period of great productivity Herberigs's composing came to a halt in 1945. However, instigated by a commission from his native town Ghent, he recovered his vitality and in barely nine months' time he wrote the monumental score for the Lam Godsspel (Lamb of God Play) . Moreover, for the radio orchestra he composed a series of big orchestral works, for which he was inspired by his two important extra-musical inspiration sources, i.e. literature and painting. These compositions carry titles like Antonius en Cleopatra (1949), De vrolijke vrouwtjes van Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor) (1950), De vier jaargetijden naar Brueghel (The Four Seasons after Brueghel) (1956), Vier odes aan Botticelli (Four Odes to Botticelli) (1958), his last orchestral work composed at age 80 being Romeo and Julia.
Typical of Robert Herberigs is multiplicity and versatility. Indeed the latter quality was not confined to music: apart from a number of plays he wrote some ten popular and historical novels, the best known being Pastorke Candeels (Father Candeels). Furthermore he brushed hundreds of paintings with great verve and a lot of paint, large series of landscapes and seascapes, later on imaginary abstract canvases as well.
© Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Muziek vzw - Jan Dewilde (translation: Jo Sneppe)