Rodolfo Halffter and Grupo de los Ocho

Rodolfo Halffter1

Rodolfo Halffter Escriche (October 20, 1900 – October 14, 1987) was a Spanish composer;  he was the brother of Ernesto Halffter and uncle of Cristóbal Halffter, also composers.  Hallfter was self-taught and in the 1930s took part in the intellectual environment of Madrid, particularly in the composers’ society “Grupo de los Ocho“.

The Group of Eight or Group of Madrid is the name given to a group of musicians and musicologists Spaniards , considered the musical equivalent of the Generation of ’27 and composed of Ernesto Halffter and his brother Rodolfo, Juan José Mantecon, Julian Bautista, Fernando Remacha, Rosa Garcia Ascot, Salvador Bacarisse and Gustavo Pittaluga . Also associated with this group were Jesús Bal y Gay and Adolfo Salazar, who encouraged them to innovate and introduced them to the avant-garde music of the time, including the works of Debussy, Schoenberg, Ravel and Bartók. The group was born in the early 1930s in order to combat conservatism in music, in a similar spirit of Parisian Les Six (“The Six”).

The arrival of the Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship of Franco dashed their efforts.  It was in this period that Halffter wrote the majority of his most important works, and at the same time he worked as a music critic in La Voz as well as in the propaganda ministry of the Republican government (as compared to his brother Ernesto, who supported Franco).  Because of this relationship, he went into exile in Mexico at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

In 1935 Halffter wrote the ballet Don Lindo de Almería, Opus 7, “a delightful parody of the customs of romantic Andalusia,” on which Halffter collaborated with the well-known writer José Bergamin. With the performance of Don Lindo at the International Festival of Contemporary Music at Bercelona in 1936, Halffter’s European reputation was firmly established.  His second collaboration with Bergamin, La madrugada del panadero Op.12 (“The Baker’s Morning”), completed in 1940, is modeled on de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat. It has been described as “full of attractive and colourful ideas expertly wrapped in some piquantly scored Neo-classicism.”

Because Halffter worked for the anti-Franco Republican government, at the end of the war, and with Franco’s ascendance, he went into exile in Mexico, bringing with him a compositional style that combined contemporary trends with a refined Spanish neo-classicism. In Mexico he became collegial with Carlos Chávez and Blas Galindo. He taught at the Escuela Superior Nocturna de Música from 1939 until 1941, when he became professor of musical analysis at the National Conservatory. Halffter was also a noted editor, working for the journal Nuestra música, and directed the publishing company Ediciones Mexicanas de Música for many years, publishing works by Galindo, Jose Pablo Moncayo, Mario Lavista, and many others.

The initial work of Halffter’s period of exile, composed between 1939 and 40 was the Violin Concerto, which was premiered June 26 1942 by the Sinfónica de Mexico under the direction of Carlos Chávez. It was performed in Madrid in 1964, within the First Festival of Music of America and Spain. It was written at the request of Russian violinist Samuel Dushkin, who had collaborated with Stravinsky on his Concerto in D. Considered by some to by Halffter’s greatest work, the concerto harks back to Halffter’s Spain of the 1920s.

Sue Ellen Teat wrote in the NATS Journal that Halffter’s music generally follows in the tradition of Falla:

“the basis is tonal, sometimes enriched with bold and witty polytonal inflections; the rhythm is asymmetrical and varied; the style is above all clear and spare. In 1953, in the Tres hojas de album for piano, he began to use 12-note serialism, the first Mexican composer to do so. This, however, did not alter the essentially melodic nature of his work.”

Three volumes of chamber music have been released by Naxos Records, as well as much of his music for solo piano.

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