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Halffter, Ernesto

Ernesto Halffter was born in Madrid on January 16, 1905. Self-taught until the age of 18, he composes when he was 6 years old his first work El Cuco a short piece for piano and between 1920/21 Crepúsculos, three lyric piano pieces. Its first performance in 1922 arouses the interest of the musical world and constitutes his first composition to be regarded as important. In 1923, his String Quartet, Sonatina Fantasía also for string quartet and Dos Bocetos Sinfónicos reaffirm his generally known precocity.
In 1923, the spanish musicologist and critic Adolfo Salazar introduces the young Halffter to Manuel de Falla. Greatly impressed by the quality of the works of the young composer, in particular his Hommages, little suite for piano trio, piece that deserves a “bravo” written by the Maestro on one page of the manuscript, Manuel de Falla decides to take him as disciple, quite exceptionally, to complete his musical education. The following year, Manuel de Falla entrusts to him the direction of the Bética Chamber Orchestra in Seville, which he has just founded and of which Halffter will remain official conductor until its dissolution.
In 1925, his Sinfonietta wins the Spanish National Music Prize of the year. This event marks his recognition at the international level.
From that moment on, Halffter continues in Paris his musical studies with Maurice Ravel whilst diffusing contemporary and Spanish music with his orchestra or foreign orchestras like in 1927, in particular, in Paris, conducting the premiere of the stage version of "El Amor Brujo” by Manuel de Falla with the Spanish Ballet Company of Madame Argentina (Antonia Mercé) who first danced Halffter’s ballet Sonatina in Paris in 1928.
In the thirties, Halffter’s career is divided between his activities as composer and conductor. His works Sonata per pianoforte (1932), the Espagnolade for piano (1937) and Canzone e Pastorella for cello and piano (1934) were composed in this decade. In 1934, Halffter is appointed Director of the Conservatory of Music in Seville.
Taking up residence in Lisbon from 1935 to 1954 and being appointed professor to the Spanish Institute in the Portuguese capital, composes Rapsodía Portuguesa for piano and orchestra (1939), in memoriam Maurice Ravel, several songs based on the traditional Portuguese folklore, Llanto por Ricardo Viñes (1943), Pregón (1945), Habanera (1945), all for piano, Fantasía Española for cello and piano (1952) and several film scores.
In 1954, Halffter is asked by the Falla’s heirs to complete his cantata Atlántida left unfinished at his death in 1946 and between 1957 and 1976 devotes himself, although intermittently, to his task. Its achievement proves that Halffter is the only genuine de Falla’s disciple, whose Siete canciones populares españolas he had already orchestrated. Along these years he composes religious music : Canticum in P.P. Johannem XXIII (1964), Canticum elegiacum in memoriam Pierre de Polignac Praeclarissimi Principis (1966), Psalmi (1967) and a Concierto para guitarra y orquesta (1969). In 1983 he is given for the second time the Spanish National Music Prize.
During his latest years, he writes several piano works : Sonata. Homenaje a Domenico Scarlatti (1985), Nocturno Otoñal. Homenaje a Arthur Rubinstein (1987) and his Homenajes to Federico Mompou, Joaquín Turina and his brother Rodolfo Halffter (1988), remaining active almost until 1989, the year he passed away.