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Ernesto Halffter

Born: 1905

Died: 1989

Nationality: Spanish

Publisher: UME

Prior to the generation that produced Ernesto, the Halffter family had not been especially associated with the musical profession. However, the twentieth century saw the emergence of a virtual dynasty through the prodigious compositional activities of Ernesto (1905-1989), his older brother Rodolfo (1900-1988) and their nephew Cristobal (1930-)

His mother, a pianist of considerable perception, was his first music teacher and Ernesto revealed his gifts at an early age, composing at age of 6 “The little cuckoo” for solo piano, never written but complete in his mind.

Largely self-taught, the precocious composer started to write music for the piano at the age of thirteen and soon came to the attention of Adolfo Salazar, the most influential Spanish music critic and musicologist at the time, who introduced his talented charge to Manuel de Falla in 1923. Halffter showed him two works: Crepusculos (Twilights) and Hommages. Petite Suite pour Trio. A few days later, Falla returned both pieces and wrote “bravo” on one of the pages of Hommages. Falla impressed by Ernesto’s spontaneous and strong creativity, accepted quite exceptionally to become his mentor and other than study composition, Ernesto was named in 1924, under Falla’s insistence, musical director of the newly created Orquesta Bética de Camara de Sevilla, the beginning of a long and esteemed career as an orchestral conductor. During his term as music director of the Orquesta Bética, he toured Spain with Falla at the piano. The repertory of the Orquesta was a blend of the old revived as part of the neo classic movement and the new foreign contemporary music.

His relationship to Falla was central to Ernesto’s musical development in the early years of his career as composer but was also instrumental in arranging the publication of his works and through his indefatigable support and promotion of his younger colleague.

Other important influences on the young composer were a series of composition lessons with Maurice Ravel while living in Paris when he became acquainted with the celebrated French Groupe des Six and the formation of lasting friendships with such budding Spanish masters as Federico Garcia Lorca, Rafael Alberti and Salvador Dali, who drew the covers of two of his piano pieces.

The 1920’s saw many of Ernesto’s most enduring compositional successes, including Sinfonietta, recipient of the Premio Nacional de Música in 1925, the ballet Sonatina premiered in Paris in 1928 by Antonia Mercé (la Argentina) and her company, Sonatina-Fantasia for string quartet (1923), Dos Bocetos Sinfónicos (1923-1925), and the Sonata per pianoforte (1926-1932).

In 1928 Halffter married the Portuguese pianist Alice Camara Santos and took up residence in Lisbon from 1935 to 1954, being appointed in 1934 Director of the Conservatorio de Música de Sevilla.

Among the fruits of his extended sojourn in Portugal were a series of harmonized and orchestrated songs from the Portuguese traditional folklore, the brilliant Rapsodia Portuguesa for piano and orchestra in memoriam Maurice Ravel and the orchestration of Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas. During these years, Halffter enjoyed considerable success as a composer of film scores and composed a piece for cello and piano Fantasia Española (1952-1953) and two large-scale works: the ballets El Cojo enamorado (1955) and Fantasia Galaica.(1956)

Manuel de Falla on his Argentinian exile since 1939, passed away in 1946 leaving unfinished Atlantida, the epic cantata he had been working on for so many years. In the early fifties, Falla’s heirs sought advice from Halffter as to the best decision that could be taken regarding this work. On account of his love and admiration for Falla, he felt somehow as a commitment to undertake the polemical project to put in order and complete the cantata, a score so full of problematic fragments

No doubt that his immersion in this idiom influenced the creation of such original choral works as Canticum in P.P. Johannem XXIII (1964), the Canticum elegiacum in memoriam Pierre de Polignac Praeclarissimi Principis (1966) and Psalmi (1967).

Among his last compositions are a set of “homages” for solo piano including the Sonate. Homenaje a Domenico Scarlatti, the Nocturno Otoñal. Homenaje a Arthur Rubinstein and the Homenajes a Federico Mompou, Joaquin Turina and his brother Rodolfo Halffter

In 1983 he was recipient once again of the Premio Nacional de Música de España.

There is considerable diversity in Halffter’s musical output. Many works revisit Baroque and late-Renaissance musical styles, while others refer to the folk music of the Iberian Peninsula. Throughout his oeuvre one is nevertheless struck by the consistency of his polyphonic rigor and his adherence to a tonal language, in spite of the free and colorful use of dissonance.

This sense of the richness of tradition and Halffter’s confidence in his place within its continuum may be the ultimate reflection of the composer’s Spanish identity as well as the touching legacy of an artist of uncommon gifts and generosity.


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