Migration in Music Part 1/3

By Gabriel Prynn, cellist

Part 1/3: Manuel Maria Ponce

Version française

This third concert of the season echoes the reality of the migrants: we will interpret the music of composers who have in turn left their countries, whether Russian (Rachmaninov), Brazilian (Villa-Lobos), Mexican (Ponce) or Czech (Dvorak).

As today, some artists made the choice to leave their country – for work, for studies, or to simply find a better life. Others were forced to leave. During our exploration of the subject of migration seen through the prism of music, we have noticed that for some composers the experience of migration tinted their works with the colors of their adopted country. Or, on the contrary, strengthened their ties with their country of origin – their native folklore or nostalgia leaving their mark on their compositions.

With this concert, we wanted to put into perspective the very topical subject of cultural identity and borders, giving it a new and purely musical flavour.


Towards the old continent …

We can see that the optimism of the first years of the 20th century quickly gave way to an age of unprecedented upheaval – the birth of globalization, world conflicts, political, economic and ecological crises. But with these global crises came also a real explosion of creativity.

In the New World, this inventiveness took the form of a fascination for local folklore and popular music, as the music of Manuel Ponce and Heitor Villa-Lobos clearly demonstrates.


Manuel Ponce (1882-1948): Trio Romántico (1912)

Manuel Maria Ponce left his native land of Mexico in 1904 to pursue his musical training in Italy and Germany. This magnificent trio, unjustly neglected in our eyes, shows us a young composer who both heir to a rich romantic tradition and in search of a more personal voice informed by his own origins. In the course of his career, he moved from nationalism to Impressionism to finally write, in the last period of his creative life, some of the most important works of Latin American modernism.

According to the Spanish virtuoso guitarist Andrés Segovia, who became his friend and defender, it was indeed Ponce who gave a new lease of life to the repertoire of the guitar and thus restored it as a solo instrument. Ponce’s research and archiving in the field of traditional Mexican songs is also remarkable.

His Trio Romántico dates from 1912, a decisive year for Ponce: he encouraged his pupils to present the music of Debussy for the first time in Mexico, which secured his position in the Mexican avant-garde. His own concerts given the same year, with the composer himself on the keyboard, allowed him to become a major figure in the musical life of his country.

The Trio Romántico is indeed Ponce’s first large-scale chamber music composition and represents the summit of his romantic period. Begun in 1904 during his first stay in Europe, he completed it in Mexico eight years later. The première of the work took place in July 1912 in Mexico City, as part of a concert devoted to his music.

This ambitious concert actually represented a turning point in the history of Mexican music, partly because large-scale forms were added to the Mexican concert repertoire, but also because it marked the beginning of nationalism in classical Mexican thanks to an abundant use of folk elements.

 The evolution of Ponce’s style is noticeable from one movement to another in the Trio Romántico. The first movement maintains a rather traditional sonata form. Ponce allows himself great freedom in the handling of his themes however. We notice that his use of chromaticism in the bass often leads melodic lines towards distant tonalities.

The second movement, Andante Romántico, evokes, by the simplicity of its harmonies and its triple metre, the tradition of salon music established in Mexico at the end of the 19th century.

The Scherzo begins with a playful dialogue in minor mode between piano and strings that gives way to a dreamy, intimate and nostalgic music in major mode in the central part of the movement.

The last movement juxtaposes two contrasting musical elements: brooding, contrapuntal material is punctuated by Lentamente sections of touching expressivity.

In short, a work rich in colors and emotions, but also tinted by the charming naiveté of a young composer who is looking for his identity at a pivotal time in the cultural life of his country.


Migration in Music on March 4th, 2017 at 7.30pm at Bourgie Hall


Migration in Music Part 2

Migration in Music Part 3

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