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Manuel M. Ponce

Most guitarists play Ponce’s music…

The first Ponce piece I learned was the Scherzinho Mexicano. Then I heard somebody play his arrangements of Tres Canciones Populares and I also learned those. My friend Ernesto García de León played the Theme Variee et finale and I loved it, a few weeks later I was playing that too. Every time I went to a guitar recital I would hear a new Ponce piece that I wanted to learn.

After listening to a lot of his music I began to wonder why was it that nobody would play a whole Ponce recital. It was common to hear a pianist play an all-Beethoven recital; the same happened with Schubert, Mozart, Brahms, etc.
Would it be too much? Was Ponce’s music not worthy of that? The answer to the first question is that guitarists just didn’t do that sort of programming twenty years ago. There may be exceptions, but for the most part, Segovia’s influence was still too strong in all of us. Very often Segovia would program: three movements of a Bach suite; one or two movements of a Sor sonata, etc. Guitar recitals sometimes would list ten or more composers!

For a while I didn’t dare go against the flow and the project of filling a whole recital with Ponce’s music had to wait.

In 1993 I finally made up my mind, but the project had gotten more ambitious, by then I had decided to play all of Ponce’s music for guitar.
I applied to de National Fund for Culture and the Arts for a grant with the project The Complete Works for Guitar by Manuel M. Ponce and I got it. Five dates were needed to program all of his guitar music and I had only one year to learn it.

Generally speaking, a performer can put together one or two new programs in one year’s time and, although I already knew several of his works, it still was a major undertaking.

The year went by, my time was up, the dates were set and I played the five programs, not once, but three times: Mexico City, Querétaro and Toluca. As far as I know, nobody had done that before and no one has done it after.

I wouldn’t say that all of Ponce’s guitar output is great music, but most of it certainly is.
He was a highly sensitive composer with a fantastic imagination. He is not the kind of composer that makes you feel, after listening to a couple of his works, that you have heard all that he has to say.

My favorite work? I would have to pick four: the Concierto del Sur for guitar and orchestra, the Theme variee et finale, the Variations on Las Folias de España and fugue and his Sonata Romántica.

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