June 16, 2021

Small memory of a chosen one


That scandal of updating Spanish music prompted me to invite him to speak on the subject in the musical classroom of the Ateneo de Oviedo. That was the beginning of a friendship that became close, despite geographical distances. We meet many times, at his or her behest, to think and shape an initiative, or simply to talk about music and the world in general. His human quality transcended in pleasant or ungrateful circumstances, the former unforgettable and also the latter for his generous chivalry. Disgust with the dictatorship was frequent and made him leave the country for a long period of self-exile that was finally made very short by nostalgia. The arbitrariness and injustices, even the veiled threats of the Franco regime caused him an insurmountable displeasure that transcended the indefinable tonality of his music.

He returned to his homeland, to his friends and to the spiritual history of Spain from the perspectives of Américo Castro, the thought of Zubiri and the recognition of the need for his own leadership in the contemporary space that he had returned to Spanish music. And this without ceasing to be an unrivaled expert in the ethics and musicality of the Spanish giants of the past. If not in all, in a good part of his creation the echoes of that golden age appear that in subtle reworking of form and harmony seemed to inspire the combinations and sounds of the avant-garde of the 20th century. One of his most popular works, Tiento and battle for a large orchestra, exemplifies these fusions of materials three or four centuries apart, bringing to the macroorchestra two motifs by two organists from the 17th century.

Their conversation was itself a cultural asset and an invitation to intellectual happiness. I received frequent testimonies of his appreciation on the numerous occasions when he offered me musical research work, either for the College of Emeritus in Madrid or for the courses he directed every summer in Villafranca del Bierzo, where I remember having touched on such distant subjects as the birth of the opera with Monteverdi’s Orpheus, or the entire block of Schönberg’s non-serial work.

There, in the capital of Bierzo, is the castle of the Marquis of Villafranca, inherited by his wife and mother of his three children, Marita Caro, a descendant of the Marquis who had an important role in Spanish life centuries before. She was a great pianist, a favorite interpreter of Cristóbal’s piano, as well as a person of the finest intelligence who was absolutely devoted to her husband and children, Pedro Halffter Caro among them, who for many years was an excellent principal and artistic director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria.

Marita preceded Cristóbal in a few years on his astral journey, and since then he has been secluded in the castle in his Villafranca, where he has not stopped composing despite the deafness that, like Beethoven, confronted him with the most hidden face of life. music. The premiere of that work in the most complete retirement will be an event, with its huge patterned papers full of the always manual traces of its scores, which it never wanted to entrust to cybernetic facilities.

At his home in Madrid one afternoon we discussed the terms and contents of the play program for the premiere in Kiel, of his second opera, Lázaro, whose text he wanted to commission me. For work reasons I couldn’t go to the premiere, but my unforgettable Lothar and Liliana Siemens were there, who told me they had witnessed something exceptional. Yes, I was in his first opera, Don Quixote, premiered in Madrid for the inauguration of the renovated Royal Theater, with Pedro’s baton and a dazzling set by Wernicke. This if I saw it and commented on a review.

Cristóbal liked to tell me his news, his works about to premiere and the initial moments of some projects. This was the case, for example, of the Seven Songs of Spain, commissioned by Rafael Nebot for their absolute premiere at the Canary Islands Music Festival. We were in Alicante, following the Contemporary Music Festival directed by his great colleague Tomás Marco. When he told me about those seven pages of vocal and symphonic revision of as many poems from Hispanic antiquity, I asked him which singers he was thinking of for their premiere: “En María Oran!” He exclaimed. She was the Spanish soprano of my choice, another friend of my soul and an absolute artist.

I do not remember now how many or how were other conversations with Cristóbal Halffter, but with this humble memorial I have managed to make my memory extinguish for a few moments the deep sorrow of losing a close friend, who has also been a chosen one, a great artist, and a simply unforgettable human being. To Pedro and his brothers I express my deep condolences. Also to Music.

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