Ponce: Mexican Piano Music
Scherzino mexicano (ca.1909)
Malgré tout (1900)
11 Miniaturas (ca. 1903)
1. Allegretto vivace
2. Allegretto molto
7. Andantino mosso
9. Andante cantabile
10. Allegro giocoso
11. Andantino infantile
All compositions by Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948)
Manuel María Ponce (1882-1948) is considered one of the most important composers from Latin America. He brought innovations in harmony and form to Mexican music and was the first to collect and classify Mexican folk music. His musical production was driven from a very young by an awareness to write modern music. As a consequence, his style is an eclectic synthesis of many different sources: folk music, European music, Cuban music, Impressionism, Neoclassicism, and many more. The two most important teachers he had were Martin Krause (a student of Franz Liszt) in Berlin, and Paul Dukas, with whom he studied composition in Paris in the 1920s.
This piece is part of a set of fourteen pieces titled Trozos Románticos (Romantic Bits). This work was composed between 1908 and 1911 in Mexico City after Ponce’s first trip to Europe. Each piece is dedicated to a different female student Ponce had. This collection is clearly influenced by the musical language used in the character pieces by the Romantic composers of the time such as Chopin, Liszt or Mendelssohn. Malinconia is a small character piece whose title describes melancholy. It is dedicated to his student Adela Islas and its form is ABA, as most of the pieces of the set. The A sections are in 4/4 time while the B section is in 6/8 time.
Scherzino Mexicano was composed in 1909 and uses elements from Mexican folk music. It is considered one of Ponce’s pieces that undoubtedly represents his nationalist side along with his Mexican Ballade, his song Estrellita, and his Mexican Rhapsodies. The form of the piece is ABA, and its character is cheerful and lively.
Malgré tout (In spite of Everything) is a piece for the left hand composed in 1900 and dedicated as an homage to Ponce’s friend Jesus F. Contreras (1866-1902), a celebrated Mexican sculptor who lost his right hand in an accident. In spite of this, in 1898 Contreras sculpted a work with only his left hand, titling it “Malgré tout.” This marble sculpture depicts a naked woman laying down, chained and imprisoned with shackles. What is curious about this work is that the face of the woman is raised towards the front in a gesture of longing. The original copy of the sculpture is located in the Nacional Museum of Art in Mexico City, and a bronze copy can be seen at the oldest park in the Americas (which served as inspiration for the construction of Central Park in New York City): the Alameda Central in downtown Mexico City. Regarding Ponce’s piece, its form is ABA and it can be described as a romantic dance that contains the rhythm of the habanera.
Ponce premiered this work in 1903 in Aguascalientes, Mexico under the name “Bagatelles.” However, they were published in Germany in 1906 under the name “Miniatures.” This work was conceived as a series of eleven musical vignettes with their own character in the style of early romantic composers like Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. They can also be considered as eleven small etudes because every miniature has its own technical problem to solve. Miniatures one and eight are dedicated to the study of the arpeggios; the second is focused on the study of the so-called “Mannheim sigh,” a two-note slur practice that emphasizes the first note more than the second one; the seventh is a study about the creation of sound atmospheres through pedaling; the third is devoted to the study of clarity and speed; the fourth and the tenth are studies of the “Mannheim sigh” in combination with chord leaps; the sixth is focused on chords leaps; the fifth is dedicated to the study of the octaves, and the eleventh and the ninth emphasize the study of cantabile and the use of polyphony.
Program notes by Oscar Vázquez Medrano