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Manuel Ponce was a Mexican pianist and composer whose style underwent a profound change in midlife; his works are clearly divisible into two types. The earlier style was derived primarily from the brilliant salon style of Moszkowski and Chaminade, and is represented by numerous light works for the piano and a huge quantity of sentimental songs. After studying with Dukas, Ponce developed a style that combined French Impressionism and neo-Classical contrapuntal techniques. Most of his guitar music and the majority of his more serious and larger works were written in this style. In addition to the songs and early piano works, Ponce composed a piano concerto, several large symphonic works for orchestra, the Concierto del sur for guitar and orchestra, which was premiered by Segovia, some chamber music, two piano sonatas, and a large quantity of guitar music.

Born in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, 1882, Ponce had no important teachers during his childhood in Mexico. In 1895 he was made organist of Saint Diego, Aguascalientes, and in 1900 he went to Mexico City to study piano with Vicente Mañes. From 1901 until 1904 he supported himself as an organist, teacher and music critic back in Aguascalientes. Ponce left for Europe in 1904, giving his first recital abroad in St. Louis on the way. He stayed in Berlin, teaching and concertizing until his return to Mexico City in 1909 to succeed Castro as the piano instructor at the Mexico City Conservatory. During this time, his compositions became fairly popular in Latin countries, and his renown grew; he became conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra from 1917-1919.

In 1925, Ponce moved to Paris and edited a music periodical; it was during this period that he studied with Dukas and reformulated his compositional style. He returned to Mexico in 1933, and remained there until his death. Many of Ponce's earlier works have faded into obscurity, but some of his songs, particularly "Estrellita" (1914), became enormously popular, and are still occasionally performed. Although most of his guitar pieces have become part of the standard repertory, his major works are seldom performed outside of Mexico. (Steven Coburn, All Music Guide)

According to oral testimonies and contemporary press, the composer was himself an extremely developed pianist. He was barely four years of age when, after having listened to the piano classes received by his sister, Josefina, he sat in front of the instrument and interpreted one of the pieces that he had heard. Immediately, his parents had him receive classes in piano and musical notation. In 1901 Ponce entered the National Conservatory of Music, already with a certain prestige as a pianist and composer. There he remained until 1903, the year in which he returned to the city of Aguascalientes. This was only the beginning of his peregrination. In 1904 he travelled to Italy for a superior study of music in the School of Bologna.

He studied in Germany between 1906 and 1908. After some years abroad, Ponce returned to Mexico to become a teacher for piano and history of music, back at the National Conservatory of Music, from 1909 to 1915, and 1917 to 1922. He interrumpted his work as he travelled from 1915 to 1917 to La Habana, Cuba. In 1912 he composed his work "Estrellita" (little star), which is not a normal love song, as is usually thought, but "Nostalgia Viva" (live nostalgia). That same year, Ponce gave in the Arbeau Theater the memorable concert of Mexican Popular music that, although he scandalized by the ardent defenders of the European, came to constitute a fundamental landmark in the history of the national song.

With melodies like "Estrellita", "A la orilla de un palmar", "Alevántate", "La Pajarera", "Marchita el Alma" and "Una Multitud Más", Ponce gained the title of "Creator of the Modern Mexican Song . He was also the first Mexican composer of popular music that projected its music to the foreigner: "Estrellita", for example, has been part of the repertoire of the main orchestras of the world and countless singers, although quite often the interpreter ignores the origin of the song as well as the name of the author. He was married to Mrs. Clema Ponce, next to whom he died in Mexico City, Mexico. Before that he received the "National Arts and Science Prize".

He was buried in the Roundhouse of the Illustrious Men in the Pantheon of Dolores in Mexico City. In his honor there is a board of recognition by the state of Aguascalientes in the base of the column of The Exedra, next to the fountain from a spring dedicated to this musical poet, in his childhood and young adult City of Aguascalientes, where he first was introduced to the music studies.

Ponce wrote music for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and orchestra. His piano and guitar works outnumber those dedicated to other solo instruments within the set of pieces we know.

Ponce's guitar music is a core part of the instrument's repertory, the best-known works being Variations and Fugue on "La Folia" (1929) and Sonatina meridional (1939). He also wrote a guitar concerto Concierto del sur dedicated to his long time friend and guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia. His final work for guitar, Variations on a Theme of Cabezón was written just a few months before his death. The origins of this piece are shrouded in mystery, and it is unclear whether the theme for the variations was written by Antonio de Cabezón or Ponce's own teacher, Enrico Bossi. Nonetheless, this piece remains one his most profound works for the guitar. (Wikepedia)

see also:
Poetry on Six Strings
Music for the guitar by
young Mexican composers
based on contemporary Mexican poetry
edited and performed by Nadia Borislova

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