PONCE: Guitar Music, Vol. 2

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Manuel Maria Ponce(1882-1948)

Guitar Works Vol. 2

Manuel Maria Ponce was born into a middle-?¡class family in the Mexicanprovincial town of Fresnillo, Zacatecas, and received his first piano lessonsfrom his sister Josefina in Aguascalientes when he was only six years of age.

Ponce's prodigious talents took him to Mexico City, to advanced studies inBologna and Berlin, a position at the Mexico City Conservatory, and an extendedsojourn from 1925 to 1933 in Paris, where he worked with Paul Dukas. After 1933,Ponce returned to Mexico City where he taught piano at the Conservatory andfolklore at the University. He also had a busy career as a music critic andjournalist, from youthful articles in the Aguascalientes newspaper and a periodfrom 1915 to 1917 in Havana, to editing major music periodicals in Mexico Cityand Paris. As a composer, Ponce merged the influences of his youth, salon musicfor the piano, sentimental art-?¡songs and folk-tunes, with sophisticatedcounterpoint, impressionistic harmonies and the new Latin American nationalism.

Although he was not alone in forging a Mexican national musical tradition, hisworks, with their often breath-taking melodies, still have broader appeal thanthose of his few rivals, such as Chavez, and it would not be unreasonable toproclaim him Mexico's greatest composer.

It was in 1935 that Fritz Kreisler finally admitted what many hadalready come to suspect: that some of the little violin pieces byhalf-forgotten masters that he performed were in fact his own compositions. Wasthis an innocent joke or a despicable fraud, as some critics irately claimed?The verdict of history has favoured Kreisler, and hearing some of these piecestoday, with the advantage of hindsight, it seems obvious that the critics hadno-one but themselves to blame for being fooled in the first place. Kreisler,however, was not the only touring virtuoso to do such a thing.

A few years earlier, the Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia had plotted asimilar joke with his friend the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce. Segovia was apioneer of the inclusion of what we today call early music in the concertrepertoire. The texture of Renaissance and Baroque lute music particularlysuited the guitar, and the music itself had a quaint and exotic flavour which hispost-Romantic audiences loved. Furthermore, the music itself was becomingfashionable in the 1920s, when Respighi's orchestral settings of old Italianlute music created a sensation. It put Segovia at the cutting edge of thelatest musicological trends while lending to the guitar a certain legitimacy asthe heir to the immense lute and Vihuela repertoire, much as the piano was heirto the harpsichord repertoire. The principal problem was the availability offresh and suitable examples of such music. The study of the Spanish vihuelists,still in its early stages, provided Segovia with selections from theRenaissance period, but Baroque music was a greater problem. The late FranciscoTarrega had transcribed for the guitar a few pieces from Bach's lute music, andSegovia himself would transcribe a few Scarlatti sonatas and more Bach.

Segovia, though, was never a scholar in the usual sense and, in the decadesbefore the photocopying machine, the prospect of sitting in dusty libraries andtranscribing lute tablature had little appeal to the popular virtuoso.

It is not clear exactly when or where the idea was born to persuadePonce to compose his modern counterfeits of Baroque music. The survivingcorrespondence indicates, intriguingly, that in the 1920s Segovia and Kreislerhad become friends, sharing advice and even impresarios. One tradition, relatedby Corazon Otero, has it that Segovia asked Ponce to compose the Suite inA minor as a joke on Kreisler, with whom he was to share a concert. Itis possible, although unlikely, that Kreisler had impulsively announced to hisnew friend his greatest secret, or perhaps they had commiserated with eachother on a mutual problem: Kreisler's worry that too much of his programmesconsisted of his own compositions, and Segovia's concern that too much of hiswere, increasingly, music by his favourite composer Ponce. It is also clearthat Segovia, in encouraging Ponce to write for the guitar, had discovered thatthe composer had an aptitude for composing "in the style of' others.

The Suite in A minor, originally attributed to the lutenistSylvius Leopold Weiss, was probably composed before 1929, while Ponce wasliving in Paris. The Prelude in E major for Guitar and Harpsichord andthe little Balletto for guitar date from the same time and place, andwere assigned to the same composer. The Suite in D major, ultimatelyattributed to Alessandro Scarlatti, was completed a year or two later. Bothsuites have the movements of the "traditional" Baroque partita: Prelude,Allemande, Sarabande, Gavottes I and II, and Gigue. Thesparkling little Prelude in E major for harpsichord and guitar(Paris, 1926) was also attributed to Weiss; the guitar part was probablyconceived as a solo, and is frequently performed as such. Ponce's Sonata forGuitar and Harpsichord was also composed by 1926. Both of these works wereprobably inspired by Falla's recent rehabilitation of the harpsichord and byJoaquin Nin's revival of early Spanish keyboard music in the 1920s. The Homenajea Tarrega is the last movement of a sonatina for guitar; the uneditedmanuscript, found among Ponce's papers, dated January, 1932. The first twomovements of this work had already been presented to Segovia, but they wereamong the pieces lost or destroyed when Segovia's home in Barcelona waslooted during the Spanish Civil War.

Sylvius Leopold Weiss was a perfect choice for a pastiche. He was, byreputation, a lutenist admired by Bach himself, but little was actually knownof his music, which survived in a tablature notation only few scholars of theday could read. The evolution of the hoax can be traced in correspondencebetween Segovia and the composer. In December 1929, Segovia wrote to Ponce,referring to a Julius (sic.) Weiss Suite and dance-movements that he had usedas encore pieces. He also urged Ponce to work on his variations on the theme Foliasde Espana, suggesting that such a work might be attributed to Giuliani,many of whose works remained at the time unknown. In October 1930, Segovia wasable to report the success of the works attributed to Weiss and the favourablecritical reaction. The following year, urging Ponce to finish the Suite inD, Segovia cautioned that the new work should not be too like Bach, whichwould arouse undue interest, and a few weeks later, he inquired about thepossible attribution of the Preambulo of the Suite in D major.

They settled upon assigning the suite to Alessandro Scarlatti, whoseinstrumental music was less known than that of his son Domenico. In 1933,Segovia invited Ponce to provide some sonatinas in the style of DomenicoScarlatti, but by this time, Ponce may have been tiring of the charade; he had,after all, profited little from these efforts. When Segovia proposed the WeissSuite to his publisher Schott, he demanded better terms than he had receivedfor the Bach editions because, he said, he possessed the only manuscript.

Perhaps for this reason, Schott never published the work. Furthermore,Segovia's motivation for the "joke" was no longer his desperation fornew material. A world traveller with admirers everywhere, Segovia would havehad little difficulty obtaining a few authentic sonatas by Weiss or earlyeditions of Giuliani had he tried. Segovia himself had arranged several ofDomenico S
Item number 8554199
Barcode 636943419922
Release date 01/01/2000
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Holzman, Adam
Martin, Stephanie
Holzman, Adam
Martin, Stephanie
Composers Ponce, Manuel Maria
Ponce, Manuel Maria
Disc: 1
Homenaje a Tarrega
1 Preludio
2 Preambule
3 Courante
4 Sarabande
5 Gavotte I
6 Gavotte II
7 Preludio
8 Allemande
9 Sarabande
10 Gavotte
11 Gigue
12 Preludio for Guitar and Harpsichord
13 I. Allegro moderato
14 II. Andantino
15 III. Allegro non troppo e piacevole
16 Balletto
17 Homenaje a Tarrega
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