HALFFTER: Dom Lindo de Almeria / La madrugada del panadero
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Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987):
Paquiliztli ?À Obertura festiva ?À Obertura concertante
La madrugada del panadero ?À Don Lindo de Almeria
The oldest member of a Spanish family ofmusicians of Prussian origin, Rodolfo Halffter was bornin Madrid on 30th October 1900. Self-taught as acomposer, he was much inspired by the Harmonielehretextbook of Schoenberg, who, along with Debussy, wasto have a decisive influence on the music of hismaturity. Through the good offices of the critic AdolfoSalazar, he and his brother Ernesto were introduced toManuel de Falla, by then the leading Spanish composer,and to the completion of whose 'scenic cantata'Atlantida Ernesto would devote many years. A furtherstimulus was the Residencia de Estudiantes, a looseassociation of forward thinkers which included GarciaLorca and Salvador Dali.
Following the defeat of the Spanish Republicangovernment in 1939, Halffter chose voluntary exile inMexico City, where he taught at the Escuela SuperiorNocturna de M??sica and won the respect of suchcomposers as Carlos Chavez and Blas Galindo. In 1941he began a thirty-year association with the NationalConservatory, while his standing as a writer wasconsolidated by becoming editor of the journal Nuestram??sica and director of the Ediciones Mexicanas deM??sica in 1946. Only in 1962 did Halffter make a returnvisit to Spain, when his music, together with that ofErnesto and Rodolfo's nephew Cristobal, was accordeddue recognition. Awarded numerous honours in his lateryears, he died in Mexico City on 14th October 1987.
Taking his cue from Falla, Rodolfo Halffterevolved a style of clear-cut rhythmic and tonal contrast,enlivened by off-beat accents recalling Stravinsky andpolytonal inflections in the manner of Milhaud. In 1953he began to adopt elements of serialism (the firstMexican composer to do so), but his use of suchtechniques was never at the expense of his essentiallymelodic idiom.
Among his last works one of the most striking isPaquiliztli, composed in 1983 for seven percussionists,though Halffter's approach owes less to such pioneeringfigures as Var?¿se or Cage than to the South Americancomposers with whom he was associated. Opening with amarch-like idea on xylophone and side-drum, punctuatedby cymbals, bass-drum and timpani, the piece generatesa lively momentum as it traces a colourful harmonicscheme, the main idea being a constant feature either initself or as a motivic presence.
Composed in 1952, the Obertura festiva is selfexplanatoryin mood and purpose. The main theme,alternately graceful and animated, and with solo woodwindprominent against string textures, has more than a hintof the Classical Spanish era beloved of Falla. The pieceproceeds as a sequence of ideas related to this theme,maintaining a robust buoyancy in the process.
On a similar scale, the Obertura concertante datesfrom 1932 and is thus among Halffter's earliestpublished music. The clear-cut outlines of the openingexchange for piano and orchestra, integrated as equals,as the title suggests, rather than confronting each otheras opposites, hold good over the course of the piece, inwhich the influence of Stravinsky and, to a lesserdegree, those of Poulenc and Prokofiev can bediscerned. The central section, begun by a rhapsodicpiano solo, is more lyrical in mood, after which acurtailed reprise of the opening music rounds off thiscompact and personable work.
Along with the Violin Concerto written for SamuelDushkin, the ballet-pantomime La madrugada delpanadero helped establish Halffter's reputation inMexico. Composed to a folk-inspired scenario by JoseBergamin, the suite arranged in 1940 gathers togetherthe main dances in a sequence suitable for concertperformance. The lively Entrada recalls the manner ofFalla's ballet El sombrero de tres picos. A colourfulEscena introduces the winsome Danza primera,following which, the cavorting Danza segunda featuressome incisive Stravinskian rhythmic writing. Theanimated Danza tercera has a recurring idea for piano,flutes and pizzicato strings, while the heavier Danzacuarta closes on an expectant pause. This prepares forthe Nocturno, an atmospheric piece featuring imaginativeostinato writing for piano and the undoubted highlightof the ballet suite, which then concludes with theenergetic humour of the Danza final.
Five years earlier, Halffter and Bergamin hadcollaborated on a ballet entitled Don Lindo de Almeria.
First given at the Festival given by the InternationalSociety of Contemporary Music at Barcelona in 1936,the score was an immediate success, quickly receivingperformances in Paris and in Mexico City (the firstwork of Halffter's to be heard there). Although theincidents depicted are archetypally Spanish, there is noattempt to tell a story through the sequence of dances:rather this is music for the stage after the example ofStravinsky's later ballets, an intention consolidated byrecourse to material from Spain's Golden Age of thesixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in the scoringfor strings and percussion.
Bustling divided strings are the mainstay of theIntroduccion y Danza primera, after which a sombreand inward-looking Escena prefaces the contrastingDanza segunda, castanets adding to the livelyambience. Violin harmonics begin the Danza tercera instriking fashion, regularly recurring to colour the musicwith harmonic ambivalence, while the astringently neoclassicalDanza cuarta is scored for strings alone. TheCeremonia nupcial is solemn and restrained, itsexpressiveness barely ruffled by a more incisive fugalpassage that briefly emerges. A Baroque courtlinesspervades the Danza quinta, moving, through a briefanticipatory Escena, into the Danza final. This bringstogether elements from earlier in the ballet, which dulymoves towards an incisive and effervescent apotheosis.Richard Whitehouse