Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar (8 December 1882 - 24 April 1948) was a Mexican composer active in the 20th century. His work as a composer, music educator and scholar of Mexican music connected the concert scene with a usually forgotten tradition of popular song and Mexican folklore. Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by the harmonies and form of traditional songs.
Born in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Manuel Maria Ponce moved with his family to the city of Aguascalientes only a few weeks after his birth and lived there until he was 15 years old.
He was famous for being a musical prodigy; according to his biographers, 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 travels. In 1904 he traveled to Italy for advanced musical studies at the School of Bologna.
He studied in Germany as a pupil of Martin Krause at the Stern conservatory in Berlin between 1906 and 1908.
Years at the National Conservatory:
After his years abroad, Ponce returned to Mexico to teach piano and music history at the National Conservatory of Music from 1909 to 1915 and from 1917 to 1922. He spent the intervening years of 1915 to 1917 in Havana, Cuba.
In 1912 he composed his most famous 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" a memorable concert of Mexican popular music which, though it scandalized ardent defenders of European classical music, became a landmark in the history of the national song.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), who met Ponce in Paris in the 1920s, wrote
I remember that I asked him at that time if the composers of his country were as yet taking an interest in native music, as I had been doing since 1912, and he answered that he himself had been working in that direction. It gave me great joy to learn that in that distant part of my continent there was another artist who was arming himself with the resources of the folklore of his people in the struggle for the future musical independence of his country. 1
With valuable activity promoting music of the country and writing melodías like "Estrellita", "A la orilla de un palmar", "Alevántate", "La Pajarera", "Marchita el Alma" and "Una Multitud Más", Ponce gained the honorific title Creator of the Modern Mexican Song. He was also the first Mexican composer to project popular music onto the world stage: "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 its author.
In 1947 he received the National Science and Arts Prize.
He was married to Clementina Maurel, next to whom he died in Mexico City. His body 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 at the base of the column of The Exedra, next to the fountain from a spring dedicated to this musical poet, in the city of Aguascalientes where he grew up and first studied music.
Recordings by Ponce:
Ponce participated in the following recordings:
Manuel María Ponce: Concierto para piano y orquesta (Ponce on piano; Orquesta Sinfónica de México; conducted by Carlos Chávez) (Radio Mil, 1942) ,
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Ponce recorded the following works on Duo-Art piano rolls between 1916 and 1920:
5789 Ponce - Mexican Barcarolle,
5807 Ponce - Cuban Serenade,
5924 Ponce - Mexican Serenade,
5930 Ponce - Moonlight,
5937 Ponce - Sono mi Mente-Loca (Cuban Song),
6294 Ponce - Quando vene la Primavera (When Spring Comes),
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. Estrellita is Ponce's best known work.
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, which is dedicated to his long-time friend and guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia. His last known work dedicated to Father Antonio Brambila, Variations on a Theme of Cabezón, was written in 1948, a few months before his death. It is unclear whether the variations are indeed based upon a theme by Antonio de Cabezón or if the theme was the work of Ponce's teacher, the organist Enrico Bossi. The following is only a select number of his most 'significant' contributions.
Canciones populares mexicanas: La pajarera, Por ti mi Corazon, La valentina (ca. 1925 -1926),
Sonata mexicana (1923),
Thème varié et Finale (1926),
Sonata III (1927),
Sonata clásica (1928),
Sonata romántica (1929),
Suite en la Mineur (1929),
Variations and Fugue on 'La Folia' (1929),
Sonatina meridional (1939),
Variations on a Theme of Cabezón (1948),
Dos Vinetas' (post-humous),
It was Ponce who anonymously created the striking arrangement for guitar of J. S. Bach's Prelude from the first cello suite as performed and recorded by Segovia. Ponce also composed the prelude for lute ascribed by Segovia on record and program notes to lutenist/Bach contemporary S. L. Weiss. Segovia recorded this piece both as a solo and as a duet, performed with harpsichordist Rafael Puyana. Check with Christopher Parkening for verification.
According to some mythogical oral testimonies and contemporary press, the composer was himself an extremely developed piano performer.
Quatro Danzas Mexicanas,
Balada Mexicana Version for Piano solo and Piano and Orchestra,
Scherzino a Debussy,
Estudios de concierto,
Elegía de la ausencia,
Tema mexicano variado,
Concerto para piano,
Preludio y fuga sobre un tema de Handel,
Adiós mi bien,
Cerca de tí,
Cinco poemas chinos,
Cuatro poemas de F.A. de Icaza,
Dos poemas alemanes,
Dos poemas de B. Dávalos,
Isaura de mi amor,
Lejos de tí,
Lejos de tí II,
Marchita el alma,
Poema de primavera,
Por tí mi corazón,
Seis poemas aracáicos,
Soñó mi mente loca,
Tres poemas de E. González Martínez,
Tres poemas de M. Brull,
Tres poemas de Lermontow,
Tres poemas de R. Tagore,
Tres poemas franceses,
Una multitud más,
Folk song arrangements:
A la orilla de un palmar,
A ti va,
Acuérdate de mí,
Adiós mi bien,
Ah, que bonito,
Cerca de mí,
Cuiden su vida,
China de mi alma,
De tres flores,
Dos seres hay,
Estrella del norte,
Hace ocho meses,
La barca del marino,
Oye la voz,
Para amar sin consuelo,
Para qué quiero la vida,
Perdí un amor,
Perdida ya toda esperanza,
Pobre del hombre pobre,
Por esas calles,
Por tí mujer,
Que chulos ojos,
Que lejos ando,
Si alguna vez,
Si eres receuerdo,
Si algúna ser,
Son las horas,
Soy paloma errante,
Ven oh luna,
Vengo a saber si tú me amas,
Voy a partir,
Ya sin tu amor,
Yo me propuse,
Yo mismo no comprendo,
Yo te quiero,
Miniatures for violin, viola and cello (1927),
Quartet for violin, viola and cello (1932),
Sonata a dúo for violin and viola (1936-1938),
Trio for violin, viola and cello (1943),
Trio romántico for violin, cello and piano,
Canción de otoño for violin and piano,
Sonata for cello and piano,
Sonata for guitar and harpsichord,
Cantos y danzas de los antiguos mexicanos,
Concierto Romántico for piano and orchestra (1910),
Concierto del sur for guitar and orchestra (1941),
Concierto para violín y orquesta (1943),
Notes about the works:
An important group of Ponce's works were previously unknown to the public, as self-proclaimed heir Carlos Vázquez, a Mexican piano performer and educator who studied with Ponce, kept most of the original manuscripts in his possession. Most of them were finally donated to the National School of Music (UNAM) in Mexico City, as an analytic catalogue of his works could still be published.
One of Ponce's melodies still heard today in various arrangements is "Estrellita" (1912).