Manuel Maria Ponce was born into a middle-class family in the Mexican provincial town of Fresnillo, Zacatecas; he received his first piano lessons from 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 in Bologna and Berlin, a position at the Mexico City Conservatory, and an extended sojourn in Paris in 1925-33, where he worked with Paul Dukas. After 1933, Ponce returned to Mexico City where he taught piano at the Conservatory and folklore at the University. The tireless Ponce also had an active career as a music critic and journalist, from youthful articles in the Aguascalientes newspaper and a period (1915-17) in Havana, to editing major music periodicals in Mexico City and Paris. As a composer, Ponce merged the influences of his youth - salon music for the piano, sentimental art-songs, and folk-tunes, with sophisticated counterpoint, impressionistic harmonies, and the new Latin American nationalism. Although Ponce was not alone in forging a Mexican national musical tradition, his works, with their often breathtaking melodies, still have broader appeal than those of his few rivals, such as Chlivez, and it would not be unreasonable to proclaim him Mexico's greatest composer. Ponce wrote many works for orchestra, for piano, a fine violin concerto, and many song settings, but these works tend to be less well-known today than his music for guitar, which is fundamental to that instrument's modern repertoire.
It was the guitar virtuoso Andres Segovia (1893- 1987) who first persuaded Ponce to write for this instrument. The two met in 1923, on the occasion of Segovia's first recital in Mexico City; Ponce wrote a highly complimentary review, and a lasting friendship ensued, Segovia, conscious of the guitar's then limited contemporary repertoire, urged Ponce to compose for him, Ponce readily complied, and discovered an unusual affinity for the instrument, an instinctive ability to take full advantage of its unique qualities and to transcend its limitations. Delighted, Segovia performed Ponce's music throughout the world and edited many of his pieces for publication by the venerable German firm of Schott. The present recording consists of miniatures for guitar composed throughout Ponce's career. Even more than his extended works, these pieces reveal the inexhaustible fecundity of Ponce's musical imagination and his equally remarkable melodic gifts. Segovia sometimes took liberties while editing music. For this recording, the most original available sources have been consulted; in a few cases, notably the Twenty-Four Preludes, the Valse, and the Mazurka, the versions recorded here differ from those edited by Segovia.
Ponce wrote Estrellita, his most beloved song, in 1912; he was inspired, he later claimed, by the clear Mexican sky he observed from a night train between Mexico City and his home in Aguascalientes. The song was published in 1914, but Ponce failed to secure the copyright properly and consequently never received the royalties and financial security it certainly would have provided. He arranged the song for guitar in 1925, about the same time as his settings of the Tres Cancianes Papulares Mexicanas, La Pajarera, Par Ti Mi Carazon, and La Valentina. Segovia performed all four as a group and arranged for the publication of the latter three in 1928, The little Prelude was also composed in 1925; in 1926 Segovia wrote to Ponce that he was "awaiting .., the variations and the fugue" - perhaps referring to this prelude?
Otero has dated the Alborada and Cancion Popular Gallega to 1927; neither is mentioned in the published correspondence. The "Galician folk-song" is in fact the Catalan carol El Noy de la Mar. well known to guitarists in Miguel Llobet's arrangement. Ponce might well have learned the song from Segovia, or it is also possible that. living in Paris, he was exposed to the Catalan nationalism emerging at this time in Spain, (But neither of these sources would explain his confusion of Galicia with Catatonia) The Preludio and Courante reveal Ponce's fascination with Baroque music during this period. They were written at about the same time as he was composing for Segovia the famous pastiches-suites which Segovia then performed as his own transcriptions of little-known works by Baroque composers. Schott published the Preludio in 1928, but in an idiosyncratic edition in which Segovia specifies a capo tasto at the second fret, changing the tonality from E minor to F# minor,
Ponce laboured several years on the set of Twenty- Four Preludes, completing them by 1929, Segovia planned to publish them all, but only half found their way into print, the Twelve Preludes of 1930. Segovia wrote to Ponce that the publisher Schott, previously eager for new music, had become reticent in the face of "the crisis", that is, the world-wide economic depression. Almost half a century later the Mexican guitarist Miguel Alcazar found most of the remaining pieces among the composer's manuscripts, In Alcazar's reconstruction, the Twenty-Four Preludes appear to have included one piece in each major and minor key. Unable to find a prelude [no.3] in G among Ponce's papers, Alcazar nevertheless found a suitable piece in a manuscript of variations on a theme of Cabezón for guitar.
The Postlude was written in Paris, perhaps in 1929; Segovia recorded it in 1930. According to some speculation, Ponce may have intended it to be part of his most ambitious work for solo guitar, the Twenty Variations and Fugue on Folias de España of the same year.
In 1932, Segovia wrote to Ponce: "The Rumba is now in my feet and moving my chest. And everyone in the house [is] the same when hearing it." The Valse, perhaps originally composed for piano and arranged for guitar, seems also to date from 1932; the following year Segovia wrote to Ponce requesting a "Chopinesque" Mazurka to accompany it. In 1936 Segovia submitted four pieces (including the Tropico, which was apparently paired with the Rumba)to Schott for publication, but only the Valse was issued (in 1937).
Vespertina and Matinal (Rondino), were composed for the new Guitar Review and were published in Nos. 5 and 6 (1948) under the title Dos viñetas. Seis Preludios Cortos, written in about 1947, were published posthumously, as was the lovely and slightly mournful Scherzino Mexicano.