Ernesto Halffter (b. 1905, Madrid; d. 1989, Madrid) Federico García Lorca, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí - daring iconoclasts whose names have become synonymous with Spain's so-called Generación del '27. Less well known to the general public are the musicians who participated in this modernist explosion on the usually reactionary, tradition-bound peninsula. Ernesto Halffter (1905-1989) was perhaps the most precocious member of the Grupo de los Ocho (Group of Eight), the generation's Madrid-based contingent, which included such other composers as Rodolfo Halffter, Gustavo Pittaluga, Rosita García Ascot, Julián Bautista, Salvador Bacarisse, Fernando Remacha, and Juan José Mantecón. Manuel de Falla loomed large as a role model for most of these musicians, although his connection to Ernesto Halffter was unique in its intensity and constancy. The critic and musicologist Adolfo Salazar served as an artistic guide to the generation and supported Ernesto Halffter's career with particular fervor. Like his colleagues in poetry, painting, and film directing, Halffter was drawn at an early age to surrealism and was keenly influenced by avant-gardist trends beyond his country's borders.
Halffter followed several distinct stylistic courses in his work, from the neo-classicism of his early Sinfonietta to the overt nationalism of his Rapsodia portuguesa. A perusal of his work-list reveals a fondness for homages, the earliest of which is performed this evening. Some of these tributes express reverence for their dedicatees, while others parody their subjects with good-humored irony.

Hommages: petite suite pour trio (1922)
The trio was among the first works the teenaged Halffter presented to Manuel de Falla. Years later, writing of the encounter in a centenary tribute to his mentor, Halffter recalled Falla's reaction to this early work: "I met Falla in 1923, in Madrid...Adolfo Salazar had spoken to him about me and arranged a meeting at a café, where I brought Falla several of my compositions, including a Trio - Hommages for piano, violin, and cello. The maestro took them for analysis. He told me to call on him the following day, and, on returning, I had the wonderful surprise of discovering Falla's signature and a ¡bravo! at the bottom of one of the sections of the trio."
Hommages was published posthumously by Max Eschig in 1995 at the instigation of the Trío Mompou, which gave the premiere and recorded the work for Radiotelevisión Española. Apparently, the young composer had intended to extend the suite beyond the four completed "homages" but never returned to the undertaking. Indeed, the pattern of cyclical attention to compositional projects would persist throughout Halffter's career, resulting more than once in the fragmentary survival of aborted endeavors. In any case, the four finished movements of Hommages reveal an astonishingly precocious assimilation of contemporary artistic trends and a canny knack for stylistic mimicry. Indeed, "à la manière de..." might be a more accurate title for these clever miniatures.
The initial movement is dedicated to the French composer Francis Poulenc, Halffter's senior by a mere six years. The section is subtitled "Andantino senza Variazioni," a negation of the traditional variation form so prevalent in the Classical style as well as a witticism in the tradition of Erik Satie. Like Poulenc, Halffter rejects conventional development and elaboration, preferring a sort of "moto perpetuo" repetitiveness. Indeed, the first of Poulenc's Trois mouvements perpétuels for piano is unquestionably parodied in the present work's seemingly willful banality. Hommages continues with an Allegro Molto Vivace, dedicated to Igor Stravinsky. The melodic material consists of a simple pattern confined to a tetrachord (a series of four consecutive pitches), undoubtedly a reference to the eponymous composer's The Five Fingers, composed a year earlier. The unrelenting motoric rhythm is another allusion to the Russian's style.
Halffter honors his faithful promoter Adolfo Salazar in the third movement - Lento, ma non troppo, subtitled "Un parfum d'Arabie." In addition to his pathbreaking career as a music critic, Salazar was widely respected as a composer and a musicologist. His seminal research into the history of Spanish music included such publications as La música contemporánea en España and the Historia de la música española, and "A Perfume of Arabia" alludes no doubt to Arabia, an original composition of Salazar for piano quintet. As in the two previous Hommages, a static quality predominates: the evocation of mood and atmosphere take precedence over drama, contrast, and traditional "Western" development. Hypnotic drones and ostinati undergird the musical texture throughout, as well as curious rhythmic displacements based on the superimposition of groupings of three and four eighth notes in the piano part.
Non-functional harmonies within a predominantly diatonic framework, droning gong sounds, fragmentary melodic constructions, the influence of non-Western musical traditions - in the end, the composer of the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune takes a bow, as if to acknowledge his guiding presence and seminal influence throughout the entire cycle and in the work of its honorees. The final Hommage actually quotes the opening motive of Debussy's celebrated tone poem, a suitable tribute to the composer who might be said to have opened up so many of the aesthetic vistas explored by Halffter in this youthful essay.
Text by Adam Kent ©2000


updated: 8/11/2011