Cristóbal Halffter

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Cristóbal Halffter Jiménez-Encina (born March 24, 1930 in Madrid , † May 23, 2021 in Ponferrada ) was a Spanish composer and conductor .

Halffter was one of the most important contemporary Spanish composers, who - although his résumé is that of a cosmopolitan - showed himself to be committed to his Spanish homeland in the work and activity.


Halffter, who also had German ancestors, was born in Madrid in 1930. His grandfather Ernesto Halffter Hein (born as Ernst Albert Halffter) was a jeweler and came from Königsberg . His uncles Ernesto and Rodolfo Halffter were also respected composers. He spent part of his childhood in Germany; from 1936 to 1939 he lived in Velbert , where his father was a factory director. From 1939 to 1951 Halffter learned piano, music, harmony and composition in Madrid, including as a private student of Conrado del Campo .

In Franco's Spain , Halffter was a representative of the so-called "Generation of 1951", named after the year of graduation. This was still trained in the old style and had to acquire the musical history of the 20th century itself, as the cliché of the always flamenco dancing fiery Andalusian was propagated in Spain - there was no room for contemporary lateral thinkers.

Halffter's first twelve-tone composition , Five Microforms for Orchestra, caused a scandal in Madrid in 1960. Nevertheless, in 1961 he was appointed teacher of composition and form at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid . From 1964 to 1966 he was director of this institute. Since he did not agree with the antiquated methods of music education at this institute, he allowed himself to be exempted from teaching. This decision was also justified by his turn to creative work in conducting and composing. He received scholarships from the Ford Foundation for America and the DAAD for Berlin.

In his broad creative work, Halffter was quite a contemporary person, who asked himself current questions and problems of his time and also processed them in his works of all genres and ensembles, for example in the cantata Yes, speak out, Yes , which he wrote on the 20th anniversary the proclamation of human rights (1968) on behalf of the United Nations or in Memento a Dresden , written in 1995 for the Dresden Philharmonic in memory of the victims of the bombing of Dresden in 1945. Halffter also campaigned for contemporary composers in Spain and dealt with topics such as oppression , Violence, death, but also power and mass in his works. At the end of the 2010s he spoke against a “dictatorship of mediocrity, the worst of all dictatorships that art could defeat” on the occasion of a prize awarded to him.

From 1970 he started teaching at the University of Navarra and at the same time started a conducting career , during which he conducted all the major orchestras in Europe and America. In 1976 he was a lecturer at the international summer courses for new music in Darmstadt , after having worked several times with composers such as Pierre Boulez , Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio in the 1960s , and in 1979 he became head of the electronic music studio of the Heinrich Strobel Foundation in Freiburg im Breisgau . In 1968, 1970, 1975 and 1980 he was a juror at the World Music Days of the International Society for New Music (ISCM World Music Days). Twice, in 1976 and 1980, he received the RAI ( Prix ​​Italia ) prize and from 1980 was appointed to several honorary positions, including the Golden Medal of Merit of Fine Arts from King Juan Carlos of Spain.

Halffter was a member of the jury for the 1984 Santander Paloma O'Shea Piano Competition.

Since 1989 he has been Principal Guest Conductor of the Madrid National Orchestra . With the Montaigne Prize of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S. in Hamburg, Halffter was honored in 1994 for “the renewal of a musical form of expression and the humanistic content of his work”. On February 23, 2000, his opera Don Quijote was premiered in Madrid in the reopened Teatro Real under the direction of his son, the conductor Pedro Halffter Caro (* 1971).

In August 2003 Semjon Bytschkow conducted his Adagio en forma de Rondo for orchestra at the Salzburg Festival . In spring 2006 the German premiere of Halffter's magnum opus Don Quijote took place in the Kiel Theater , staged by Alexander Schulin under the musical direction of Johannes Willig. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote:

“The premiere six years ago in Madrid's Teatro Real [...] suggested that the overpowering model would block other approaches. Now the German premiere in Kiel has not only refuted that, it even clarifies the piece: an eminent proof of what small and medium-sized houses can achieve - almost shameful for some big stages [...]. "

On May 4th, 2008 the acclaimed premiere of his second opera Lazarus took place at the Kiel Theater , again in a production by Alexander Schulin, the musical direction was Georg Fritzsch . The world judged :

"Halffter doesn't have to prove anything to himself or us, he gains an expressively charged symphonic tone from the freedom of his age-old wisdom, which is still eloquent in silence."

Halffter received the 400,000 euro limit of knowledge from the Spanish Fundacion-BBVA in the category of contemporary music for 2009. In 2014, he was awarded the City of Kiel's Culture Prize.

Cristóbal Halffter was a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Paris and was awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of León and Madrid. He was married to the pianist María Manuela Caro († 2017) and lived in Villafranca del Bierzo and Madrid. He died in May 2021 at the age of 91.


The stage work Don Quixote , on which Halffter worked for almost ten years, is certainly a key work in his oeuvre, as it is a piece about a text "that you don't need to tell," says Halffter. This attracted Halffter, whose music was deeply rooted in Spanish musical and cultural history even before Don Quixote . In many of his works, tradition (through dealing with musical forms such as Batalla, Tiento , Ricercata or inspiration from medieval texts) and often oppressive topicality are combined in a musical cast that shows new perspectives on the "old" at the highest musical level and with relish -artistic play forces the listener to be open and attentive. Because Halffter's works are always both: tradition and present, myth and reality, thought and implementation at the same time.

Catalog raisonné

Stage works

  • Jugando al toro . Ballet. Libretto : Vicente Vila. Premiere 1960 Barcelona
  • Don Quixote . Opera. Libretto: Cristóbal Halffter and Andrés Amorós. Premiere February 23, 2000 Madrid ( Teatro Real )
  • Lazaro . Opera. Libretto: Juan Carlos Marset. Premiere May 4, 2008 Kiel ( Opera House ; Conductor: Georg Fritzsch )
  • Chess novella . Opera. Libretto: Wolfgang Haendeler based on the novel of the same name by Stefan Zweig . Premiere May 18, 2013 Kiel (Opera House; Conductor: Georg Fritzsch)

Vocal compositions

  • Yes Speak Out Yes (1968). UN cantata for soprano, baritone, 6 speakers, 2 mixed choirs and orchestra (with 2 conductors). Texts: Norman Corwin

Orchestral works

  • 5 microforms (1960) for orchestra
  • Memento a Dresden (1995)
  • Tiento y primer tono y batalla imperial
  • Adagio en forma de rondó (2002)
  • Palimsesto - 1956/2004 . Two movements for timpani and orchestra. WP 2005 Dresden
  • Ritual (2009)
  • Concerto for viola and orchestra (2016) The piece is dedicated to Daniel Karasek and Georg Fritzsch as representatives of the entire Kiel Opera House.



  • Hubert Daschner: Spanish music at the height of its time: Cristóbal Halffter . Pfau, Saarbrücken 2000, ISBN 978-3-89727-077-0 (223 pages).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fallce el compositor y director de orquesta Cristóbal Halffter. In: Hola News , May 23, 2021, accessed May 24, 2021 (Spanish).
  2. ^ Muere el compositor y director de orquesta Cristóbal Halffter a los 91 años. In: El Pais. May 24, 2021, accessed May 24, 2021 (Spanish).
  3. Klaus Zimmerhof: Cristóbal Halffter celebrates his 90th birthday. In: WAZ . March 24, 2020, Archived from the original on March 25, 2020 .;
  4. ^ Programs of the ISCM World Music Days from 1922 until today
  5. ^ Anton Haefeli: The International Society for New Music - Your History from 1922 to the Present. Zurich 1982, p. 480ff
  6. ^ Premiados, Jurados, Orquestas y Artistas Invitados: VIII Concurso Internacional 1984. In: Retrieved May 24, 2021 (Spanish).
  7. The mad are normal. Cristóbal Halffter's “Don Quixote” at the Kiel Opera . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . May 3, 2006, p. 42 .
  8. Peter Krause: Transcendent, ecstatic moments. In: The world . May 6, 2008 .;
  9. BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award - Contemporary Music 2009 ( Memento from March 25, 2010 in the Internet Archive )