In the late 1920’s, Mexican composer and pianist Manuel Ponce was commissioned by Andres Segovia to write twenty-four Preludes for guitar. Two volumes consisting of 6 Preludes each were published in 1930, while the remaining twelve Preludes were not published until 1980 by guitarist, Miguel Alcazar. All twenty-four Preludes make extensive use of many of the unique attributes and timbres of the guitar, such as the use of harmonics, different musical textures, placing the melody in different and sometimes unexpected registers, and utilizing specific strings extensively to bring out some of the distinctive tone colors of the instrument. Though not primarily a guitarist, Ponce composed many works for guitar, and had an ingenious ability to exploit the unique characteristics and limitations of the instrument, composing many memorable and unique pieces that are now important parts of the standard classical guitar repertory.
Segovia and Ponce first crossed paths in 1923, when Segovia played a concert in Mexico that Ponce attended for the purpose of writing a concert review for a local paper. Ponce was instantly impressed with Segovia’s virtuosity and musical sensibilities and wrote a favorable review of the concert. After reading Ponce’s review, Segovia arranged to meet with Ponce to encourage him to compose music for the classical guitar, starting a prolific series of collaborations and a long friendship over a period of slightly more than twenty years. This collaboration resulted in the composition of many notable guitar works such as “Theme Varie, et Finale”, “Sonata Mexicana”, “Concierto del sur for guitar and orchestra”, and twelve of Ponce’s twenty-four Preludes. Segovia also played a part in refining these pieces by adding fingerings, occasionally transposing to more guitar-friendly keys, and making other changes for performance purposes.
Ponce composed these twenty-four Preludes during the first five years of his eight-year stay in Paris, France, which began in 1925 and ended in 1933. Ponce and Segovia originally intended to write twenty-four Preludes for guitar with the purpose of creating a guitar method that would introduce guitarists to all twenty-four keys. However, after the publication of the first two sets of 6 Preludes by Schott Publishing in 1930, Segovia informed Ponce that Schott would not publish the remaining two volumes due to the economic depression of the 1930’s. Segovia recorded the first set of 6 Preludes for Decca records in 1952, greatly contributing to their enduring popularity. Nearly fifty years after the publication of the first two volumes, guitarist, Miguel Alcazar was granted access to some of Ponce’s surviving music archives and found all but one of the additional twelve Preludes that previously had not been published. To complete the set, Alcazar used Ponce’s folk song “Cuando la Aurora” in place of the missing Prelude and transposed the piece to G major, thus fulfilling Ponce and Segovia’s original goal of publishing twenty-four Preludes that would introduce guitarists to all twenty-four keys. Alcazar than proceeded to publish the final set of twelve Preludes in 1980 (fifty years after the publication of the first two volumes in 1930), which were received well by the classical guitar community and continue to be widely taught, learned, and performed to this day.
References: “The Influence of Folk Music in Guitar Compositions by Manuel Ponce” by Arnoldo Garcia Santos: https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/134856/content/GarciaSantos_asu_0010E_13688.pdf, “The Classical Guitar in Paris: Composers and Performers c. 1920-1960” by Duncan Robert Gardiner: http://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2268&context=theses_hons, “Preludes (24) for Guitar” by Blair Johnston: https://www.allmusic.com/composition/preludes-24-for-guitar-mc0002462700, “The Segovia-Ponce Letters” by Andres Segovia and Manuel Ponce. Edited by Miguel Alcazar. https://www.amazon.com/Segovia-Ponce-Letters-Miguel-Alc%C3%A1zar/dp/B0058UA0ZW