Liner Notes: Manuel Ponce's Sonata No. 1
In a modern world that has everything at its fingertips, the addition of liner notes has left a void. Too many times an album or song is bought in digital form without much consideration to its origin and the influences that brought it about. This is one of the remaining elements of compact discs that I actually miss. Especially when the notes masterfully weaved the common with the scholarly. Putting nestalgia aside, the posts including the words “Liner Notes” seek to bring out a bit more understanding of pieces we all love and enjoy. Today’s piece is Sonata No. 1 by Manuel Ponce.
Manuel Ponce and Andrés Segovia
Without working through the history of Ponce that can be found on Wikipedia, a look into his relationship with Andrés Segovia will shed some light on the development of the first sonata. One small note on the music of Ponce is that he wrote many works for orchestra, piano, violin, and other settings, but his work on the guitar has become fundamental to the repertoire of the guitar.
It is known that Segovia gave his first concert in Mexico City in 1923. It was Ponce that wrote a favorable review of the concert that allowed for their meeting and forming of a long and lasting friendship. Segovia desired to develop a contemporary repertoire for the guitar and encouraged Ponce to work on a piece for the instrument. With this urging, Ponce went to work on what we now know as the “Allegretto, quasi serenta.” This piece became the third movement of Sonata No. 1. After hearing Segovia’s approval of the work, he completed the rest of the sonata that same year.
Manuel Ponce’s Sonata No. 1
Sonata No. 1 is undoubtedly one of the first guitar sonatas composed in the 20th century. It is often called Sonata mexicana with its clear Mexican thematic influences. In the first movement, the Allegro moderato, the theme of the first two measures is similar to a villancico from Guanajuato called “Slave niño hermoso.”¹ The thematic material continues into the final movement, Allegretto, quasi serenata. This movement, as mentioned above, was the first piece we know if that Ponce wrote for the guitar. Ponce quotes a them called, “Vamos a tomar atole.”¹ This is a fragment of a Jarabe Tapatío (a type of dance with the most famous example to those of us in the United States know as the “Mexican Hat Dance”). The second movement, Andantino affettuoso, does not contain any of these themes that are known, but is unique in the unusual meter of 5/8. The final movement, Allegretto un poco vivace, rounds out the sonata with a Rondo form.
An Enduring Relationship
Segovia played the piece many times throughout his career. To make it more “Mexican,” he gave it exotic titles like “Bailecito del rebozo” (little shawl dance) and “Lo que sueña el ahuehuete” (the ahuehuete is the Mexican bald cypress tree). Segovia definitely had special place in his life for Ponce. They had an ongoing relationship that lasted a lifetime as seen in their many letters of correspondence.² Many works went back and forth between the two and without this partnership Ponce’s music might have never found its place in the guitar repertoire.
Listen to Aleksandr Tsiboulski’s interpretation below. Click here to support the artist and purchase Ponce: Guitar Music, Vol. 3 From Amazon
Alcazar, Miguel. Obra completa para guitarra de Manuel M. Ponce de acuerdo a lost manuscritos orginales. Mexico City: Ediciones Étoile, 2000.
Segovia, Andrés. The Segovia-Ponce Letters. ed. by Miguel Alcázar, trans. by Peter Segal. Columbus: Editions Orphée, 1989.
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