When planning his orchestra piece Tiento del primer tono y batalle imperial, Halffter’s imagination was fired by the colourfulness and equivoque of a word derived from the verb tentar (= to feel, to touch with the fingers); it is dedicated to Paul Sacher (“… a musical gift for Paul Sacher on his 80th birthday”).
Halffter’s composition refers directly to two precisely written works from the repertoire of early Spanish organ music: one of the many tiento compositions written by Antonio de Cabezón (circa 1510-1566; he was blind from birth – the bishops and the emperor availed themselves of his services) and the Batalla y Imperial by the Valencian cathedral organist Juan Bautista Cabanillos (1644-1712), who employed the characteristic “Spanish Trumpets” (projecting horizontally from the front of the organ) most effectively (Ballata, Imperial: rows of 8-foot, 16-foot and 32-foot pipes).
However, Halffter does not at all restrict himself to quotation and orchestration for large symphonic forces; his personal language dominates in virtuosic interpolations and parallel layers. Furthermore, he honours the genius loci of the venue where the piece premiered; in the first section (mm. 57-58), the strings play all the letters of the dedicatee’s name which can be musically set, whereas in the turbulent Batalla Imperial the Basel Drums (positioned in a circle around the orchestra) play their dominant fortissimo rhythm.