Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar (Fresnillo, December 8, 1882 – Mexico City, April 24, 1948) was a Mexican composer.
He was born in Fresnillo, Zacatecas state, but lived his entire childhood to Aguascalientes. His musical aptitude was obvious since his childhood: he began studying piano with her sister Josefina and in 1897 was organist in the church of San Diego. From 1901 to 1903, in Mexico City, he completed his studies at the National Conservatory of Music.
In 1904 he continued his studies through courses at the Liceo Musicale of Bologna, with Marco Enrico Bossi. From 1906 to 1908 he studied in Germany, with Martin Kreuze.
He returned to Mexico in 1908 and was a teacher at the National Conservatory, where he held the chairman position for Piano and Music History, becoming director in 1934. Some of his pupils included Carlos Chavez, Salvador Ordóñez and Antonio Gomezanda. Between 1917 and 1918 he was director of the National Symphony Orchestra, replacing Jesús M. Acuña.
From 1920 he devoted himself to composing and writing arrangements of Mexican music. In 1925, during another stay in Europe, in Paris this time, he befriended Paul Dukas and other French musical masters, and took inspiration from their techniques for his own modern nationalist music. He was director of the School of Music at the University Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1945, where he established the his position as chairman of Folklore Music.
In 1947 in Mexico, he received the National Arts Award. He died the following year and his body was buried in the ‘Rotunda of Illustrious Persons’ at the Panteon de Dolores in Mexico City.
His vision of composition is related to the classical school. He did not try to be innovative; some of his works seem aimed to research the bel canto period and is usually accompanied by simple harmonies (although in some songs, like the Sonata III or “Theme varied and final” for guitar, Ponce goes in search of a robust harmonic texture and polyphonic based writing with three or four voices). He also preferred long classical forms rather that short ornate romantic form.
He wrote numerous compositions for guitar, performed by Andrés Segovia (who followed and supported him). His guitar pieces remain a cornerstone of guitar literature. In addition, his songs were sung by artists like Lily Pons and Tito Schipa.
A scandalous concert was given in 1912 in Mexico’s Arbeau Theater for its narrow nationalism against the current trends, just as happened years later to Villa-Lobos in Brazil.