The Kennedy Center

Cristobal Halffter


Christobal Halffter was born in Madrid in 1930, nephew of prominent composers Ernesto and Rodolfo Halffter. He later was to become one of the most well known groups of composers from Spain in the 1950s. He studied at the Madrid Conservatory where his gift for composing was discovered early. He won numerous prizes while a student.

His early work, Antifonia Pascual (1952) followed the Spanish style of Manuel de Falla as well as some of his uncles' compositions. Movimientos (1956) for timpani and string orchestra won a prize in a young composers contest sponsored by UNESCO. When Halffter was introduced to the twelve-tone system in 1956, he composed one of his most important works for orchestra, Cinco Microformas (1960), a set of five variations on a twelve-tone theme. In 1961 his composition for two pianos, Formantes, was chosen to represent Spain at a UNESCO conference on contemporary music. The piece used the "chance" principles whereby the performers may choose the order in which they play various sections.

Halffter's first piece using electronic sounds was Espejos (1963) for four percussions and magnetic tape. In this work, the first section is recorded, then played back while the instrumentalists continue playing new material. In 1964, he became director of the Madrid Conservatory where he formed the Grupo Nueva Musica that sponsored concerts of new music. In Simposium (1967), written for baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra, Halffter had his choir speak, whisper and chant as well as sing, a new trend in choral music.

In 1967 UNESCO commissioned Halffter to write a work commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yes, Speak Out, Yes, was performed in the United Nations Building in 1968. It was at this time Halffter established himself among the international avant-garde. In his career, Halffter has written at least 37 pieces for orchestra, 17 vocal compositions, and at least 10 works for chamber ensembles, as well as works for solo and two pianos. In 1983 King Carlos of Spain awarded him the Gold Medal for Fine Arts.

Christobal Halffter lives in Spain.

Cristobal Halffter