About this Recording
8.557623 - HALFFTER: Dom Lindo de Almeria / La madrugada del panadero
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Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987):
Paquiliztli · Obertura festiva · Obertura concertante
La madrugada del panadero · Don Lindo de Almería

The oldest member of a Spanish family of musicians of Prussian origin, Rodolfo Halffter was born in Madrid on 30th October 1900. Self-taught as a composer, he was much inspired by the Harmonielehre textbook of Schoenberg, who, along with Debussy, was to have a decisive influence on the music of his maturity. Through the good offices of the critic Adolfo Salazar, he and his brother Ernesto were introduced to Manuel de Falla, by then the leading Spanish composer, and to the completion of whose ‘scenic cantata’ Atlantida Ernesto would devote many years. A further stimulus was the Residencia de Estudiantes, a loose association of forward thinkers which included García Lorca and Salvador Dalí.

Following the defeat of the Spanish Republican government in 1939, Halffter chose voluntary exile in Mexico City, where he taught at the Escuela Superior Nocturna de Música and won the respect of such composers as Carlos Chávez and Blas Galindo. In 1941 he began a thirty-year association with the National Conservatory, while his standing as a writer was consolidated by becoming editor of the journal Nuestra música and director of the Ediciones Mexicanas de Música in 1946. Only in 1962 did Halffter make a return visit to Spain, when his music, together with that of Ernesto and Rodolfo’s nephew Cristobál, was accorded due recognition. Awarded numerous honours in his later years, he died in Mexico City on 14th October 1987.

Taking his cue from Falla, Rodolfo Halffter evolved a style of clear-cut rhythmic and tonal contrast, enlivened by off-beat accents recalling Stravinsky and polytonal inflections in the manner of Milhaud. In 1953 he began to adopt elements of serialism (the first Mexican composer to do so), but his use of such techniques was never at the expense of his essentially melodic idiom.

Among his last works one of the most striking is Paquiliztli, composed in 1983 for seven percussionists, though Halffter’s approach owes less to such pioneering figures as Varèse or Cage than to the South American composers with whom he was associated. Opening with a march-like idea on xylophone and side-drum, punctuated by cymbals, bass-drum and timpani, the piece generates a lively momentum as it traces a colourful harmonic scheme, the main idea being a constant feature either in itself or as a motivic presence.

Composed in 1952, the Obertura festiva is selfexplanatory in mood and purpose. The main theme, alternately graceful and animated, and with solo woodwind prominent against string textures, has more than a hint of the Classical Spanish era beloved of Falla. The piece proceeds as a sequence of ideas related to this theme, maintaining a robust buoyancy in the process.

On a similar scale, the Obertura concertante dates from 1932 and is thus among Halffter’s earliest published music. The clear-cut outlines of the opening exchange for piano and orchestra, integrated as equals, as the title suggests, rather than confronting each other as opposites, hold good over the course of the piece, in which the influence of Stravinsky and, to a lesser degree, those of Poulenc and Prokofiev can be discerned. The central section, begun by a rhapsodic piano solo, is more lyrical in mood, after which a curtailed reprise of the opening music rounds off this compact and personable work.

Along with the Violin Concerto written for Samuel Dushkin, the ballet-pantomime La madrugada del panadero helped establish Halffter’s reputation in Mexico. Composed to a folk-inspired scenario by José Bergamín, the suite arranged in 1940 gathers together the main dances in a sequence suitable for concert performance. The lively Entrada recalls the manner of Falla’s ballet El sombrero de tres picos. A colourful Escena introduces the winsome Danza primera, following which, the cavorting Danza segunda features some incisive Stravinskian rhythmic writing. The animated Danza tercera has a recurring idea for piano, flutes and pizzicato strings, while the heavier Danza cuarta closes on an expectant pause. This prepares for the Nocturno, an atmospheric piece featuring imaginative ostinato writing for piano and the undoubted highlight of the ballet suite, which then concludes with the energetic humour of the Danza final.

Five years earlier, Halffter and Bergamín had collaborated on a ballet entitled Don Lindo de Almería. First given at the Festival given by the International Society of Contemporary Music at Barcelona in 1936, the score was an immediate success, quickly receiving performances in Paris and in Mexico City (the first work of Halffter’s to be heard there). Although the incidents depicted are archetypally Spanish, there is no attempt to tell a story through the sequence of dances: rather this is music for the stage after the example of Stravinsky’s later ballets, an intention consolidated by recourse to material from Spain’s Golden Age of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in the scoring for strings and percussion.

Bustling divided strings are the mainstay of the Introducción y Danza primera, after which a sombre and inward-looking Escena prefaces the contrasting Danza segunda, castanets adding to the lively ambience. Violin harmonics begin the Danza tercera in striking fashion, regularly recurring to colour the music with harmonic ambivalence, while the astringently neoclassical Danza cuarta is scored for strings alone. The Ceremonia nupcial is solemn and restrained, its expressiveness barely ruffled by a more incisive fugal passage that briefly emerges. A Baroque courtliness pervades the Danza quinta, moving, through a brief anticipatory Escena, into the Danza final. This brings together elements from earlier in the ballet, which duly moves towards an incisive and effervescent apotheosis.

Richard Whitehouse

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