The most beautiful Guitar Concerts – “Concierto del Sur”
Manuel Maria Ponce, born in 1882, was Mexico’s most important composer in the first half of the 20th century. Through his studies in Germany, France and Italy he was strongly influenced by the European musical tradition, but in his work he knew how to combine these influences so skillfully with the music of his homeland that a highly individual and characteristic musical language arose.
Although his oeuvre includes works for almost all known instruments, it is above all his contribution to the repertoire of the guitar that has secured him a place in music history.
He wrote his most important works for them and it is not least due to his work that the guitar has established itself as an important solo instrument at eye level with other instruments.
In 1925, now a composer known beyond the borders of Mexico, he enrolled in the composition class of Paul Dukas at the École Normale de Musique in Paris to get to know the latest trends in modern music.
At the same time two other composers who became important for the development of the guitar and with whom he had an intensive exchange: the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo and the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos studied there.
Villa-Lobos later recalled his first encounter with Ponce: “I remember that I asked him then whether the composers of his country were still interested in local music, as I had been doing since 1912, and he replied that he himself had worked in this direction. It was a great pleasure for me to learn that in this remote part of my continent there was another artist who armed himself with the means of his country’s very own folklore for the future musical independence of his country.”
During his stay in Paris, which was to last eight years, his friendship with A. Segovia was also strengthened.
Ponce was an enthusiastic supporter of Segovia’s playing from an early review and wrote: “The music created in the hands of Andres Segovia gives us a feeling of intimacy and well-being as we only know it from our home herd. It evokes distant and tender feelings and envelops things in the mysterious magic of the past. It opens the mind to dreams to live some precious moments in the environment of pure art that the great Spanish artist can create.”
They had their first contact after a guest performance by Segovia in Mexico City, during which Ponce visited the artist behind the stage. A. Segovia was so impressed by Pone’s commentary on the concert and his criticism of Moreno-Torroba’s “Sonatina” that he spontaneously asked him for a composition.
Thus began a long and fruitful collaboration, in which five sonatas, two suites, two variations, 24 preludes and numerous shorter pieces were written.
During his time in Paris, Ponce also had the idea of writing a concerto for guitar and orchestra.
Already in the spring of 1926 he presented Segovia with the first sketches, but then he repeatedly postponed the elaboration of his work.
Above all, he was concerned whether it was even possible to write a Concerto for guitar and modern orchestra.
On 14 October 1941, the “Concierto del Sur” was finally premiered in Montevideo. Andrés Segovia took over the solo part and the composer conducted the orchestra.
A grateful audience celebrated the concert with enthusiastic ovations, and the musicians were forced to repeat the last movement of the concert.
The following day a newspaper in Montevideo noted that“the success that Maestro Manuel Ponce achieved yesterday will last for a long time”.
Even today Ponce’s Concerto is one of the most popular works for guitar and orchestra and an important part of the repertoire of modern guitarists.
Apart from his unconventional melodic style and the distinctive Latin-American sounds, this may also be due to the brilliant guitar part, which always leaves a strong impression on the audience.
The concert is traditionally arranged in three movements. As the name suggests, Spanish music has a strong influence on the work, especially in the second and third movements.
Even the beginning of the concert is clearly marked by the rhythmic pattern of the Sevillana, and throughout the work there are always references to Spanish music. All this, nuanced with Mexican accents and enriched with impressionistic harmonies, makes it rightly one of the most popular works of classical guitar literature of the 20th century.