Music Manuel Ponce
Jorge Barrón Corvera
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0296


Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar (b. Fresnillo, Zacatecas, 8 December 1882–d. Mexico City, 24 April 1948) is one of Mexico’s foremost composers and has been widely acknowledged as a pioneer of musical nationalism in his country. His prolific catalogue contains more than 300 compositions. A cultured man, he wrote over 200 essays on musical topics and was the founding editor of three influential music journals: Revista Musical de México (Mexico City, 1919–1920), Gaceta Musical (Paris, 1928–1929), and Cultura Musical (Mexico City, 1936–1937). On occasion, he used the anagrammed pen names Noé Mac Púlmen or Noé Mac Ulpmen. Polyglot and multifaceted, he undertook an array of activities: teacher, lecturer, researcher, editor, music critic, administrator, conductor, pianist, and composer. Ponce studied music in Mexico City, Bologna, Berlin, and in Paris at the École Normale de Musique with Paul Dukas. His eclectic style ranges from baroque, classical, and romantic to impressionistic, neoclassic, and neoromantic. Influences from the music of Spain, Cuba, and especially from Mexico are also found. Ponce first gained transnational exposure as the composer of the song Estrellita (1912). Subsequently, the quality and quantity of his guitar works, including the celebrated Concierto del sur (1940), became one of the single most important contributions to the literature of that instrument. Recent decades have witnessed an increase in scholarly texts on Ponce. Internationally known for his guitar works, that specific output has received widespread attention in editions, articles, and recordings. Fewer texts are to be found concerning the rest of his musical catalogue as well as on his writings. During his lifetime, abundant newspapers closely followed his career. Later, Ponce’s birth and death anniversaries have prompted bursts of publications. The present and future are promising as more performers and scholars around the world are getting drawn to the Mexican composer. Ponce married contralto Clema Maurel in 1917. They had no children. In 1936, Carlos Vázquez became Ponce’s piano student and, with time, one of his closest disciples and ultimately his heir. After Ponce’s demise, Clema, with the assistance of Carlos, worked tirelessly to preserve, edit, and disseminate the composer’s work. Following her passing, Carlos carried on with these endeavors for the rest of his life.

General Overviews

Covering a span from 1947 to 2005, the texts in this section are concise yet authoritative and will provide a swift perspective on Ponce. Four are encyclopedia articles: Mayer-Serra 1947, Stevenson 1980, Miranda 2001, and Hindrichs 2016. There is also a journal paper by Mello 1982. The rest are chapters from books on Mexican music (Malmström 1974), Latin American music (Béhague 1979), Manuel Ponce (Stevenson 1982), and 20th-century music (Antokoletz 1992).

  • Antokoletz, Elliott. “Mexico: Manuel M. Ponce.” In Twentieth-Century Music. By Elliott Antokoletz, 218–221. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1992.

    Succinct, general biographical and stylistic remarks. Delivers musical analysis of the opening of Chapultepec and an excerpt of the second movement of Concierto del sur. Antokoletz states that in these works as well as in the Violin Concerto, the composer has created a modern national language that combines international influences with folk sources from Spain and Mexico.

  • Béhague, Gerard. “Manuel M. Ponce and His Contemporaries.” In Music in Latin America: An Introduction. By Gerard Béhague, 125–128. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1979.

    A biographical sketch with general stylistic assessments. Béhague comments on Ponce’s diverse styles from romantic to impressionistic, neoclassical, and neoromantic as well as on his nationalistic orientations.

  • Hindrichs, Thorsten. “Ponce Cuéllar, Manuel.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart Online. Edited by Laurenz Lütteken. Bärenreiter, Metzler, RILM, 2016.

    Encompasses a biographical section, a chronologically ordered worklist, a stylistic overview, and a brief bibliography. Hindrichs praises Ponce’s broad stylistic palette. Originally published in 2005.

  • Malmström, Dan. “Manuel Ponce.” In “Introduction to Twentieth Century Mexican Music.” PhD diss., Uppsala University, 1974.

    A survey of Ponce’s life and musical style. Incorporates analytical remarks and musical examples of the Mexican song Valentina for piano, and Chapultepec for symphony orchestra. See pp. 36–40, 73–75.

  • Mayer-Serra, Otto. “Manuel M. Ponce.” In Música y músicos de Latinoamérica. Vol. 2. By Otto Mayer-Serra, 782–786. Mexico City: Editorial Atlante, 1947.

    A concise yet detailed biographical profile. Reproduces newspaper reviews from Ponce’s artistic sojourn across South America (1941). Includes a partial list of edited works classified by media and by publisher. Does not have a bibliography.

  • Mello, Paolo. “Manuel M. Ponce, músico polifacético.” Heterofonía 15.79 (October–December 1982): 24–30.

    Biographical and stylistic overview. Mello highlights the wide range of activities that Ponce undertook as composer, pianist, teacher, conductor, musicologist, and as a more methodical proponent of Mexican musical nationalism, stating that “the most important thing is that in his music are reflected the customs and traditions of a society, the sensibility of a people, half a century of the history of Mexico (p. 30).”

  • Miranda, Ricardo. “Ponce, Manuel.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 2001.

    Comprises a vita, stylistic assessments, a worklist chronologically organized by media, and selected bibliography both by and about Ponce. Miranda champions Ponce as the foremost Mexican composer of his time and a major figure in the evolution of Mexican music nationalism.

  • Stevenson, Robert. “Ponce, Manuel.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan, 1980.

    A succinct biographical outline is followed by a list of selected works arranged chronologically by media. Stevenson asserts that his guitar compositions demonstrate influences from impressionism and neoclassical counterpoint.

  • Stevenson, Robert. “Un tributo a su Centenario.” In Centenario Manuel M. Ponce, 1882–1982. Edited by Carmen Sordo Sodi, 13–24. Aguascalientes, Mexico: Gobierno del Estado de Aguascalientes, 1982.

    Biographical sketch abridged from Romero 1950 (cited under Reference Works). Stevenson gives some stylistic remarks on the composer’s music and evolution, and admires his versatility to compose pieces that appeal to various audiences from the dilettanti to the learned. Includes a selected list of works.

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