Monday, October 26, 2009

Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)

Mexican composer and pianist. Considered the most important Mexican musician of his time, he made important contributions in the development of a national style of Mexican music. He came from a family of musicians; with his sister Josefina he began his studies with Cipriano Avila. He joined the choir in Aguascalientes when he was approximately eleven years old and later became the assistant organist and later the organist of the choir. From 1900-1901 he studied in Mexico City the piano under Vicente Manas, and studied harmony with Eduardo Gabrielli. He continued his studies in Europe; under the instruction of Marco Enrico Bossi he studied composition. He later studied the piano in Berlin with Krause. Financial difficulties forced him to return to Mexico in January of 1907. He returned to Aguascalientes and gave piano lessons, until he moved to Mexico City and taught the piano at the Conservatorio Nacional. In 1910, he formed a panel of judges in a composing competition marking the anniversary of Mexican independence. The judges included Pedrell, Faure, and Saint-Saens. In 1912, he performed a concert of his works which included the premier of his Piano Concerto, which validated him as the most important Mexican music figure at that time. Due to social and political problems from the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) he was forced to leave from 1915-1917. During that time he was in Havana, Cuba where he gave concerts, wrote music reviews, and gave lectures. When he returned to Mexico in 1917, he began his piano teaching again at the conservatory, and conducted the National Symphony Orchestra from 1917-1919. From 1919-1920 he published the magazine Revista musical de Mexico, the first of his numerous publishing entities. He returned to Paris in 1925, and studied with Dukas. It was there he published the magazine Gaceta musical, a Spanish magazine with a number of contributors such as, Dukas, Milhaud, Villa-Lobos, and Alejo Carpentier. It was also at this time when he was commissioned by the Albeniz family to complete the opera Merlin, from which he wrote a symphonic collection.
Returning to Mexico again in 1933, he was the director of the National Conservatory, and focused on composing and teaching. He edited a third magazine in 1926-1937 called Cultura musical. He was a productive writer, publishing a number of articles ranging from piano techniques to matters regarding the media. It was in the 1930’s to 1940’s that some of his most famous premiers and performances of his works occurred. These works included: Chapultepec (1934), Poemaelegiaco (1935), Suite en estilo antiguo (1935), Merlin (1938) Ferial (1943), and the Violin Concerto (1934). He died having received numerous prizes and receiving many distinctions, which included the Premio Nacional de Artes in 1947.
Ponce’s Works: Internationally he is best known for the song Estrellita. His works incorporated a wide array of tendencies and styles from Romanticism from his early piano compositions to the harmony of his Sonata for the violin or viola. Although considered Mexico’s first nationalist composer his compositions later changed to a more contemporary style. He wrote a number of works for the guitar which included six sonatas: Clasica, Romantica, de Paganini, and Mexicana. Some of his works had preludes and fugues on themes based upon Handel and Bach which would be considered neo-classical. Others had a Spanish style such as Diferencias sobre las folia de Espana, and others inspired by Cuban music such as, Suite cubana, & Elegia de la ausencia. Ponce was a expert pianist, and wrote a great number of piano compositions which incorporated a knowledge of the instrument with his Romantic heritage, and also a national tendency.

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