MANUEL PONCE
(1882-1948)

Born in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico, Manuel Ponce was a Mexican composer, music educator, scholar of Mexican music, and writer. His father had fought in the Second Franco-Mexican War in 1867 which led to the restoration of the Mexican Republic, causing his family to be located in Fresnillo at the time of his birth so as to avoid political tangles in the aftermath of the war. As the 12th-born in his family, Manuel grew up in the city of Aguascalientes, where his family moved just after his birth in order to have the opportunities of a larger city, and from the age of 4 was taught piano by his sister; he eventually would study music in Italy, Germany, and France. At the time, musical composition studies in Mexico were largely under the influence of European traditions, but early on Manuel showed an interest in redefining Mexican classical music to intentionally incorporate Mexican music traditions. In 1901 Manuel entered the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico, and in 1904 moved to Italy to further his studies at Bologna’s Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini, moving yet again in 1906, to Germany, to study at the Stern Conservatory. After these studies, he returned to Mexico to teach at the National Conservatory of Music from 1909 to 1922.  During his early time as a professor, Manuel Ponce faced challenges with Mexican dictator Porfirio Díz’s political agenda emphasizing imported goods even in cultural work, which made Manuel’s nationalistic musical interest unfavorable to the public interest. Manuel wrote a massive body of work, primarily for solo piano and solo guitar, as well as songs and arrangements of folk songs, with a primary influence of Mexican musical nationalism and French impressionism; the latter developing upon his time in France beginning in 1925. He is most widely known for his song “Estrellita,” which gained popularity internationally; however, the concept of copyright was fairly new at the time, and as a result he received no royalties from his most popular work. The year before he died in Mexico City, Manuel received the National Science and Arts Prize in honor of his work. -- By Emily Singleton.