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Manuel M. Ponce

Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar was born in the mining town of Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico on 8 December 1882. Fresnillo was only a temporary residence for the family, and two months later the Ponce Cuéllar returned back to their original small village of Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes. They were a large Catholic family of twelve children of whom Manuel was the youngest. His father was a bookkeeper who earned a modest living; his mother was a homemaker with an appreciation for music; neither of them had any formal music education but encouraged their children, according to the customs of the times, to study piano. Ponce’s first piano lessons came from the family’s fourth eldest child, his sister Josefina, and the precocity of little Manuel manifested when at age five: while afflicted with smallpox, he composed his first piano piece, La danza del sarampión (The Dance of the Smallpox) (ca. 1887). At ten Ponce joined the local church choir and at sixteen was already its principal organist. He lived in Aguascalientes for the first eighteen years of his life, during peaceful times under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, until he moved to Mexico City in 1900 to expand his musical knowledge. This first attempt at higher education disillusioned Ponce but also encouraged him to look overseas: in 1904, after selling his piano, touring for money, and under some sponsorship of his older brother (the priest Antonio), he moved to Europe and studied in Italy and Germany. At the Liceo Musicale of Bologna he studied harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and orchestration under Cesare Dall’Olio, Luigi Torchi, and Enrico Bossi; and at the Stern’sches Konservatorium der Musik in Berlin he studied piano under Martin Krause (who was a pupil of Franz Liszt).After two years abroad Ponce returned to Aguascalientes in December of 1906 only to move to Mexico City again in 1908, this time to be a professor at the Conservatory.A few years later, after the premier of his Concierto romántico for piano and orchestra in 1912, Ponce became the most important musician in Mexico. In 1915, however, the circumstances of the Mexican Revolution forced him to move to Cuba where he stayed for two years, returning to Mexico City in June 1917. Ponce would live in Mexico City for the next two years until May 1925, when he moved to Paris, at age 42, to study with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. He remained in France for eight years until his return to Mexico in February 1933. Ponce stayed in Mexico for the last fifteen years of his life until his death from uremia on 24 April 1948. He is buried in the Rotunda of Illustrious Persons at the Dolores Civil Cemetery of Mexico City.

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