Manuel Ponce

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Manuel Ponce ManuelPonce.jpg
Manuel Ponce

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 mostly forgotten tradition of popular song and Mexican folklore. Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by the harmonies and form of traditional songs.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the tenth most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.



Early years

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.

Fresnillo Place in Zacatecas, Mexico

Fresnillo /fres'nijo/, founded in 1554 by Francisco de Ibarra, is the second largest city in Zacatecas state, north central Mexico and the seat of Fresnillo municipality. As a rail and highway junction, Fresnillo is the center of a rich mining area known especially for silver, and the location of one of the world's richest silver mines, the Mina Proaño or Fresnillo Mine, which belongs to the Peñoles mining company. It has a mining school, and agriculture and cattle raising are other important economic activities. Fresnillo is also the municipal seat of the municipality of the same name which surrounds it. The municipality had a population of 196,538 and an areal extent of 4,947 square kilometres (1,910 sq mi).

Zacatecas State of Mexico

Zacatecas, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Zacatecas, is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided into 58 municipalities and its capital city is Zacatecas City.

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.[ citation needed ]

Traveling years

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 Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini in Bologna.

Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini

The Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini is a college of music in Bologna, Italy. The conservatory opened on 3 December 1804, as the Liceo Musicale di Bologna. It was initially housed in the convent at the Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore. The first faculty at the school included the composers Stanislao Mattei and Giovanni Callisto Zanotti, and the composer and singer Lorenzo Gibelli. Gioachino Rossini was a pupil at the school beginning in 1806, and was appointed head of the school in 1839. Later directors of the school included Luigi Mancinelli (1881-1886), Giuseppe Martucci (1886-1902), Marco Enrico Bossi (1902-1911), and Cesare Nordio (1925-1945).

He studied in Germany as a pupil of Martin Krause at the Stern conservatory in Berlin between 1906 and 1908.

Martin Krause German musician

Martin Krause was a German concert pianist, piano teacher, music critic, and writer.

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).[ clarification needed ]

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:

Ponce recorded the following works on Duo-Art piano rolls between 1916 and 1920: [4] [ not in citation given ] [5]


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.

Guitar music

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.

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.

Piano works


Folk song arrangements

  • "A la orilla de un palmar"
  • "A ti va"
  • "Acuérdate de mí"
  • "Adiós mi bien"
  • "Ah, que bonito"
  • "Cerca de mí"
  • "Cielito lindo"
  • "Cuiden su vida"
  • "China de mi alma"
  • "De tres flores"
  • "Dolores hay"
  • "Dos seres hay"
  • "El bracero"
  • "El desterrado"
  • "Estrella del norte"
  • "Hace ocho meses"
  • "La barca del marino"
  • "La despedida"
  • "La ola"
  • "Palomita"
  • "La palma"
  • "La peña"
  • "La visita"
  • "Nunca, nunca"
  • "Ojitos aceitunados"
  • "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"
  • "Que pronto"
  • "Quisiera morir"
  • "Si alguna vez"
  • "Si eres receuerdo"
  • "Si alguna ser"
  • "Son las horas"
  • "Soy paloma errante"
  • "Te amo"
  • "Todo pasó"
  • "Trigueña hermosa"
  • "Valentina"
  • "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"

Chamber music

Orchestral works


  • Concierto Romántico for piano and orchestra (1910)
  • Concierto del sur for guitar and orchestra (1941)
  • Violin Concerto (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).


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  1. "Manuel Maria Ponce (1882–1948)", by John Patykula, Guitarra Magazine [2006 or earlier] (archive from 16 September 2016, accessed 17 October 2016).
  2. Las muchas lecturas de una grabación sonora by Eduardo Contreras Soto
  3. Dos grabaciones históricas y algunos de sus valores: Revueltas y Ponce by Eduardo Contreras Soto
  4. Duo-Art Piano Roll Catalog Archived 2012-12-02 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Mechanical Music Digest