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Ernesto Halffter


If we think of the creative leaders of the young Spanish generation of the 1920s and 1930s, the so called "Generation of 1927", we already know of the paintings of Salvador Dali, the writings by Federico Garcia Lorca and Rafael Alberti and the films of Luis Bunuel. Those are names that are universally admired and respected.
Ernesto Haffter

You can find Ernesto Halffter's biography, composition catalog, discography and more here.

For additional information, please contact info@ernestohalffter.com.

But what of the music written in Spain at that time? The name of Ernesto Halffter still stands as the leading composer of his generation and this time and place in history.

The best- known and most authentic disciple of Manuel de Falla and co-author of his cantata Atlantida, Halffter was a personal friend of and collaborator with Dali, Garcia Lorca, Alberti, Bunuel and many others of the "Generation of 1927". In his works we can also see the influence of the neo-classicism of the day as well as that of Stravinsky, Ravel (with whom he studied extensively) and the French composers of the celebrated group Les Six such as Milhaud, Poulenc and Honegger.

Ernesto Halffter was born in Madrid in 1905 and began writing piano music at age thirteen. In 1922, a family friend gave a performance of his Crepusculos, which was heard by Adolfo Salazar, the leading Spanish music critic of the day, who in turn sent the string trio Homenajes to Manuel de Falla. This began a long and personal relationship between teacher and disciple. Halffter spent long periods in Granada in order to take composition lessons with Falla, who brought his works to the publishing house of Editions Max Eschig, which handles his works even today. Falla also launched the composer's conducting career with his arrangement of Halffter's 1924 appointment to the direction of the Betica Chamber Orchestra in Seville.

Like the poets of the "Generation of 1927", Spanish composers of this period were given to evoking the Spanish Renaissance, ands this tendency was in accord with Halffter's neo-Scarlattian leanings. Combining this with the earlier mentioned influences of Stravinsky, Ravel and Les Six, he composed one of his most enduring works, the Sinfonietta, which won him his first National Music Prize in 1925 as well as substantial international recognition. Ernesto Halffter was first recognized in the United States in 1928 when Sinfonietta was premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York as well as in Detroit, Philadelphia, Saint Louis and other several cities.

After this, Halffter studied extensively with Ravel in Paris, where he continued both his conducting career and association with Falla by conducting in 1927 the stage version of El Amor Brujo with Antonia MercÈ and her Spanish dance company.

Ernesto Haffter

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s Halffter's career is divided among composing, conducting and education as appointed professor to the Spanish Institute in Lisbon, and these are busy times. His Canzone e Pastorella for cello and piano dates from 1934, the same year that he was appointed Director of the Conservatory of Music in Seville. He was also conductor of the Conservatory's orchestra from 1934 to 1936, during which time he was actually living in Lisbon. His years in that city (which ended in 1954) bring many significant works, including the Rapsodia Portuguesa for piano and orchestra (1939), 1941s Seven Portuguese Popular Songs (1941) and the Fantasia Espanola for cello and piano (1952), as well as several film scores (he wrote more than a dozen during his life).

With the death of his first great teacher, Halffter is asked by Falla's heirs to complete his cantata Atlantida, left unfinished at his death in 1946. This will intermittently occupy him until 1976. A version of the piece was first performed at the inaugural week of Lincoln Center. He also orchestrated one of Falla's masterpieces, Seven Popular Spanish Songs.

The New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes the differences between the styles of Falla and Halffter in this way, "For Falla's compression, density, synthesis and expressive restraint, Halffter substituted expansiveness, abandon, lucidity and grace."

Many of his works of the 1960s reflect religious and Renaissance themes, including a Canticum dedicated to Pope John the 23rd (1964), Psalmi (1967) and the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, which was first played at Town Hall in New York in 1969. The Madrigalesca for guitar solo from 1969 is also considered a fine and free evocation of the Renaissance spirit.

In 1973, Ernesto Halffter was elected to the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts, and gave his address on, "the enduring mastery of Manuel de Falla."

Ernesto Haffter

His last years were spent writing several solo piano Sonatas and Homages to such important people in his creative and everyday life as Scarlatti, Artur Rubenstein, Federico Mompou, Joaquin Turina and even his brother, Rodolfo Halffter. The Homage to Salvador Dali for trumpets, percussion, tenor, piano and mixed choir dates from 1974. In 1983 he is given a second Spanish National Music Prize and remained active until his death in 1989

In 1998, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center honored him with a solo exhibit, the first organized by the Library in honor of a single Spanish musician.

Ernesto Halffter stands among the truly talented and gifted artists of Spain's 20th Century. His works have been played and/or recorded by numerous American orchestras and by outstanding musicians such as Arthur Rubinstein, Leopold Stokowski, Alicia de Larrocha, Claudio Arrau, Jascha Heifetz, Henryk Szeryng and many others. His mastery provides an outstanding model for succeeding generations of composers of individuality within a national idiom.

For more information about the composer, visit his website at http://ernestohalffter.com/mainsite_en.htm.

Sources for Program Notes ‚ New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Editions Max Eschig and Manuel Halffter.

Canzone E Pastorella

This piece for cello and piano, which dates back to the early 30s, is the transcription for cello of two works originally written for piano "La corza blanca" (the white deer) inspired by Rafael Alberti's poem Mi corza (My Deer) and "Dana de la Pastora" (Dance of the Shepherdess) one of the main dances from Halffter's ballet Sonatina.

Quatuor a Cordes (String Quartet)

Composed in 1923 for violin, viola and cello and divided into four short movements, Quatuor was written in the old romantic classic tradition. It is a cheerful piece but also sentimental in the second movement. This work youthful work reveals the influence of Manuel de Falla, neoclassicism, impressionism and very subtly, folk music. Revised twice by the composer, the version on today's program is the latest, from 1936.


On the occasion of his entrance to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, Halffter wrote this piece for flute and piano or harpsichord. This instrumental combination was entirely the composer's choice to express his feelings of enthusiasm and inner joy at becoming a member of such a prestigious institution. We can find references in Pastorales to three pieces by Falla: The Three cornered hat, El amor brujo (Love the Magician) and Concerto for Harpsichord.

Homage To Salvador Dali

A lifelong personal friend of Salvador Dali, Halffter was asked by the painter to write a piece of music to celebrate the inauguration in 1974 of the Dali Museum in Figueras, Spain. Divided into three movements: Fanfare, Pregron and Himno, the work is closely related to Dali's artistic environment. Dali himself wrote the lyrics of Pregon, turning this second movement into a unique collaboration of the two artists.

Hommage Petite Suite Pour Trio

At the early age of seventeen, Halffter wrote this piece as a suite of homage's to three composers and to the music critic Adolfo Salazar. Indeed, the impact of Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy was already noticeable in the young Spanish musician. The languages are hinted at throughout the four parts of the suite. In the third, which is probably the most effective, Halffter approaches Adolfo Salazar through Falla. It was Salazar, the most influential music critic in Spain at the time, who sent a copy of this work to Manuel de Falla who, greatly impressed by the creativity of young Halffter, put a" bravo" note on one of the pages and thus became his teacher.


This is the transcription by Elliot Fisk for solo guitar of the second movement from Halffter's Concerto for guitar and orchestra, the title of which is "Fantasia alla madrigalesca" In this movement, the world of "fantasia" of the old Spanish "vihuelistas" is revisited by the composer, the guitar's strum being moderate and not quite like the Andalusia style.

Fantasia Española

Written for cello and piano in 1953, this piece was premiered in Paris by the composer at the piano and Gaspar Cassado on the cello. At the time it was written, and in view of the previous oeuvre of the composer it was considered by critics as an avant-garde piece, remarkably modern and marking a turning point in Halffter's musical development.

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