As the jury for the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award, which was awarded to Cristóbal Halffter in 2010, pointed out, the creator contributed “to the idea of contemporary European music” through his “coherence and continuity of commitment” and worked to reintroduce “Spanish music in the field of contemporary music.”
Born in Madrid on March 24, 1930, he was the nephew of composers Rodolfo and Ernesto Halffter. In 1936 he moved to live in Germany as a result of the Civil War, and in 1939 he returned to Spain, where he began his music studies on his own. After graduating from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid, where he studied with Conrado del Campo, he won the Chair of Composition and Musical Forms by opposition in 1961 and, two years later, he was appointed director of the Royal Conservatory. In 1966 he resigned from both positions to dedicate himself to creating and conducting orchestras.
In 1967 he moved to Berlin on a scholarship and, the following year, he composed the cantata Yes, Speak Out, commissioned by the United Nations, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. It was premiered at the New York General Assembly.
From 1951 he made his first premieres and in 1952 he gave his first concerts as a conductor. He performed in front of the most important world orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Baden-Baden Radio Orchestra, Zurich Tonhalle, the French National, the London Symphony or the Spanish National.
His son Pedro Halffter conducted the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra from 2004 to 2016
He composed works that span various genres, from choral, chamber and electronic music to writing for symphonic training. Among his most relevant compositions are Elegías a la muerte de tres Spanish poets (1974-1975), dedicated to Antonio Machado, Miguel Hernández and García Lorca; Three poems of the Spanish lyric for baritone and orchestra (1986); or Sonante Mural (1993), which show constant references to Spanish culture.
His religious works include Paschal Antiphony (1952), Ducal Mass (1955-56) and Dona nobis pacem (1984). Other works of his are Double concerto for violin, viola and orchestra (1979-1991); Concerto number 2 for cello and orchestra (1985), commissioned by the Baden-Baden Orchestra for Rostropovich; Three poems of the Spanish lyric for baritone and orchestra (1985-1986), commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; and Concerto for piano and orchestra (1987).
He continued working tirelessly and in the first decade of the 21st century he composed Adagio in the form of a rondo, inspired by the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York, Vitral (2003), the Espacio de Silencio quartet (2004), Epitafio para el sepulcher of Juan del Encina (2008) and his first operas, Don Quijote (2000) and Lázaro (2007).
In 2018 he composed a work in memory of little Gabriel Ruiz, El Pescaíto, who disappeared and died in Almería. «I was so impressed by what happened there, the wonderful attitude of the child’s mother, the lesson in dignity she gave for everyone, that I said to myself: I’m going to write a work for the cello. And I did it in one day, “he explained then to Efe.
For all his work, in June 2014, the composer received the Kulturpreis 2014 prize in the German city of Kiel, which is awarded every two years and was the first time a Spanish musician had won it.
In February 2016 he conducted the Philharmonisches Orchester Kiel at the Kiel Opera, Germany with the solo performance of Nils Mönkemeyer, one of the most renowned viola players.
President of the International Festival of Contemporary Art of Royan (France) (1975), he held the chair of Composition of the Contemporary Music Courses of Darmstadt, Germany (1976-1979) and directed the Berne Conservatory (Switzerland), a special chair of Composition (1986-1991).
Among the numerous awards he received, the two National Music Awards (in 1953 and 1988); the UNESCO Composition for Two movements for timpani and string orchestra (1956); the Montaigne of the Friedrich von Schiller Foundation in Hamburg (1994); in the Spanish Music of the Jacinto and Inocencio Guerrero Foundation (1994); the recognition of the European Composer of the Year from the Fundación Fordergemeinschaft dar Europeischen Wirtachaft (1994) or the International for the Performing Arts from the Fundación Cristóbal Gabarrón (2003).
And two years ago, in 2019, he received Culturas, the 2019 Egyptian Lyceum of Music Museum Award for being “one of the greatest active composers and conductors.”
In 1989 he also received the journalism award from El Correo Español-El Pueblo Vasco for his article On the death of Ignacio Ellacuría, dedicated to this Jesuit priest murdered in El Salvador, from whom he was inspired to compose his requiem Officium defunctorun (Office of the Dead ).
He was awarded the Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts (1981), Gold Medal of the International Red Cross (1983), Gold Medal of the Goethe Institute of the Federal Republic of Germany (1988), Gold Medal of Fine Arts Arts of the Junta de Castilla y León (1988), Commander of the Order of Cultural Merit of the Principality of Monaco (1994), Leonese of the Year (1995), Gold Medal of the Community of Madrid (2000) and medal of the Palau de the Music of Valencia (2005).
Doctor honoris causa from the Complutense University of Madrid (1997) and from the University of León (1985), he was a member of the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts (1983), the Royal Academy of Sweden and the Berlin Fine Arts (1989 ), European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters of Paris (1991), Royal Academy of Doctors (1998) and Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (2005), as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Instituto Cervantes (1998). In 2016 he received the Grand Cross of Alfonso X.
Several books have been published about Cristóbal Halffter, including one by Justo Romero (Cristóbal Halffter, this silence that I hear, 2003), by Emilio Casares (Cristóbal Halffter, 1980) and Tomás Marco (Cristóbal Halfter, 1972). His work is listed in the Universal Edition of Vienna.
Settled in Villafranca del Bierzo (León), where he died last Sunday, he was married to the Villafrancan pianist María Manuela Caro, who died on December 18, 2017, and with whom he had three children: Pedro, Alonso and María. Of them, as has been said, Pedro Halffter has continued his father’s career as a composer and conductor.