Ponce's Sonatinas for Guitar


Peter Kun Frary


The sonatina is considered to be a diminutive sonata with fewer movements and less technical and musical demands than the sonata. Moreover, like the sonata, it is often associated with late eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century piano literature and is a rarity in guitar music before the twentieth-century. Thus, Manuel Maria Ponce (1882-1948), a pianist, probably modeled his sonatinas for the guitar, like his guitar sonatas, after similar keyboard works from the Classic and Romantic eras. Both of Ponce's guitar sonatinas, Homenaje a Tárrega and Sonatina meridional, although shorter and easier to play than his sonatas, are of considerable technical difficulty and artistic merit, and utilize full sonata-form. The status of sonatina in these works is not directly related to pedagogic intent as many piano sonatinas are; instead, these pieces are sonatinas due to their relative brevity and availability to advanced students rather than professionals only. Thus, Ponce's guitar sonatinas are a type of less pretentious sonata, and may have been influenced by a similar approach taken in the piano sonatinas of Ravel and Busoni.

Manuel Maria Ponce (1882-1948)

A brief musical description and pertinent information concerning composition and publication will be included for each item in this article. Compositions will be graded according to level of technical difficulty on a one to ten scale: 1-2: very easy; 3-4: moderately easy; 5-6: moderately difficult; 7-8: difficult; and 9-10: very difficult. Musical examples are based on the edition listed at the beginning of each section. All works are dedicated to Andrés Segovia.

Homenaje a Tárrega

Edited by Angelo Gilardino. Ancona: Bèrben, 1984. Timing: 3' 30." Grade: 6

In a letter to Ponce (Geneva, 1932), Segovia expressed plans to publish the three movement sonatina, Homenaje a Tárrega: "El título de "Homenaje a Tárrega" puede ser sugestivo para Schott" (The work Homenaje a Tárrega will be suggested to Schott [for publication]).1 Unfortunately, the first two movements of this work were destroyed along with Segovia's Barcelona apartment during the Spanish Civil War; consequently, the sonatina was never published. Segovia relates this mishap to Ponce in a letter in 1939:

Excuse me for asking once more for what I have asked you for many times already. I would likesince everything was destroyed in Barcelonacopies of the Sonata I, that you wrote in México, the other one in A minor, movements I and II of the Sonatina dedicated to Tárrega, and finally the Sarabandes in E minor and in A minor, that have tortured me so much in the useless effort to remember them. 2

The edition examined by this writer is based on the autograph manuscript of the final movement kept in the private collection of Carlos Vázquez in Aguascalientes, México. The manuscript bears an inscription, "Final del homenaje a Tárrega. Inédito, lo tengo yo," and is signed Manuel Ponce, January 14, 1932. This surviving movement is an example of Ponce's finest writing for the guitar. The melodies and harmonies are evocative of Andalusian folk music; however, Ponce does not quote or imitate folk melodies, as in earlier works, nor does he utilize stereotyped flamenco techniques such as the golpe, rasgueado, etc. Instead, the essence of Andalusian folk music has been incorporated into a sophisticated musical idiom--an idiom a far cry from the salon music of guitarist-composer Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) to whom this work pays homage. Unlike Ponce's homage sonatas, this piece does not imitate the music of the composer to whom it pays tribute.

Homenaje a Tárrega is an outstanding example of the assimilation of Spanish folkloric elements, impressionistic harmonies and neoclassic formal technique. Laid out in a modified sonata-form, frequent metrical shifts are featured, especially 3/8 to 4/8. The exposition begins straight away with a melody evocative of Andalusia with its pedal tones, I flat-II progressions and use of the Spanish Phrygian mode:

Ex. 97. Homenaje a Tárrega, third movement, mm. 1-8

A second theme appears at mm. 31-42 immediately after a transitional passage of bass notes utilizing étouffé or apagado. However, this theme is not presented in the dominant but, instead, fluctuates mainly between the modes of A aeolian and A Phrygian:

Ex. 98. Homenaje a Tárrega, third movement, mm. 31-42

A brief development section ensues the exposition where motives mainly derived from the first theme are manipulated. The recapitulation begins at m. 88 with a modified statement of the first theme and is immediately followed with a tonic statement of the second theme at m. 97. A short developmental passage involving the second theme immediately follows. The coda, which begins with a tonic statement of the first phrase of the first theme, quickly turns into another developmental passage for the first theme.

This work is unusually idiomatic to the guitar, and demonstrates Ponce's uncanny knowledge of the most effective registers and voicings on the guitar. For example, the final passage features ascending quartal chords over an open E pedal and spicy syncopations implying metric fluctuationsall in the most brilliant and sonorous register of the guitar largely utilizing parallel fingering patterns and open basses:

Ex. 99. Homenaje a Tárrega, third movement, mm. 154-162

Sonatina meridional

Edited by Andrés Segovia. Mainz: Schott, 1939. Timing: 9' 30." Grade: 6

This work, written in Paris during 1932, is the last guitar solo Ponce wrote for Segovia and is an good example of the cross-fertilization of musical stylesfolkloric, neoclassical, neo-romantic and impressionisticwhich characterize Ponce's works of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The predominance of Spanish folkloric elements and the status of sonatina in this work are both due to Segovia's prodding:

. . . why don't you write a Sonatinanot a Sonataof purely Spanish character? It could be offered to Schott, to go in the series of medium difficulty. Make your mind up. Here you have themes enough, although in reality you don't even need them.3

The Spanish elements are also evident in the titles of the three movements of this sonatina: "Campo" (country), "Copla" (a popular Spanish song) and "Fiesta" (festival or party). All movements require the sixth string to be lowered to D.

The "Campo," marked Allegretto and in D major and 3/8 meter, is in sonata form. The first theme, evocative of Andalusian flamenco, begins with the progression of I bII and features the Phrygian mode:

Ex. 100. Sonatina meridional, "Campo," p. 3, mm. 1-6

A lyrical second theme is announced in the dominant over an A pedal immediately after a transitional passage of bass notes utilizing étouffé:

Ex. 101. Sonatina meridional, "Campo," p. 4, mm. 52-58

Motives from the first theme close the exposition; the exposition is repeated. Unlike the monothematic development sections of Sonata III and Homenaje a Tárrega, this development section features motivic manipulation of both themes. After a series of passing modulations, the development settles down in the dominant and climaxes with an extended series of chords in A Phrygian over an A pedal beginning at m. 126:

Ex. 102. Sonatina meridional, "Campo," p. 5, mm. 126-33

At m. 142 a full recapitulation commences.

The "Copla" (Andante), in D minor and 6/8 meter, is characterized by a melismatic melodic line, irregular phrase structure, fluctuations between the major and Phrygian modes, extensive use of pedal tones and a generally improvisational feel. Thus, this movement is highly evocative of the cante hondo of Andalusia. The formal structure is not clearly defined; however, the general outline of an A B A' form is evident. While the predominance of open string pedal tones may seem monotonous, a great deal of melodic and rhythmic variety and the use of hemiola (e.g., 6/8 against 3/4 in m. 1) do well in offsetting this:

Ex. 103. Sonatina meridional, "Copla," p. 7, mm. 1-7

The "Copla" is jointed directly to the following movement via a half cadence.

The improvisational feel and flamenco overtones of the "Copla" are continued in the "Fiesta." However, the "Fiesta" is not modeled on the vocal style of the flamenco singer; instead, this movement is a free fantasy utilizing stylized sounds of the flamenco guitar intermingled with impressionistic technique and, thus, presents a stunning kaleidoscope of themes, moods and colors. Marked Allegro con brio and in D major and 3/4 meter, the "Fiesta" utilizes highly idiomatic devices such as chords mainly derived from open strings, rolled chords and rasgueado:

Ex. 104. Sonatina meridional, "Fiesta," p. 8, mm. 1-5

The hemiola also appears in several forms. For example, the rhythmic grouping of mm. 1-2 suggest 3/2 rather than the 3/4 indicated in the meter signature. In addition, there are frequent metric groupings which alternate 3/4 with 6/8:

Ex. 105. Sonatina meridional, "Fiesta," p. 9, mm. 59-64

The frequent switching of melodic interest between contrasting registers is suggestive of an orchestral texture:

Ex. 106. Sonatina meridional, "Fiesta," p. 8, mm. 20-33

Although this movement is organized in a free fantasy format, three sections (A B C) are evident largely due to the tonal organization: the outer sections, in the tonic, contrast with the developmental middle section with its unstable tonality and reiteration of earlier themes.

Final Comments

Segovia's repertoire, interpretation and technique dominated the classical guitar during the first 80 years of the twentieth century. And, for better or worse, Ponce's music was irrevocably tied to Segovia. After Segovia's death in 1987, some guitarists went to great lengths to rail against anything associated with the Segovia School, largely due to a misguided attempt to escape perceived "artistic tyranny." Today, most of my guitar students don't even know Segovia's name: few YouTube videos and he doesn't get much time from audio streaming services. It's time to revisit Ponce's beautiful hybrids of the late Romantic and early Modern eras. His music is deserving of a place in every guitarist's repertoire.

End Notes

1Critical notes from Manuel M. Ponce, Homenaje a Tárrega, edited by Angelo Gilardino (Ancona: Bérben, 1984).

2Corazón Otero, Manuel M. Ponce and the Guitar (London: Musical New Services, 1983), p. 57.

3Otero., p. 40.


Otero, Corazón. Manuel M. Ponce and the Guitar. Translated by J. D. Roberts. Dorset, England: Musical New Services, 1980.

Ponce, Manuel Maria. Homenaje a Tárrega. Edited by Angelo Gilardino. Ancona, Italy: Bérben, 1984.

Ponce, Manuel Maria. Sonatina meridional. Edited by Andrés Segovia. Mainz: Schott, 1939.

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