24 Preludes by Manuel Ponce: A Brief Historical Background

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


BWV 998: Prelude

There is always something special and somewhat indescribable about Bach’s music. I know it sounds cliché, but something about his music seems to transcend place, time, and definitive description. This piece is no exception: I have performed this piece at events ranging from farmers markets to very formal events, and it always seems to fit regardless of the occasion. The flexibility and ambiguity inherent in this piece also applies to some details of its historical background. The exact date in which the piece was written is not definitively known, with the general consensus being approximately between 1735-1740. The instrumentation of this piece was indicated on the original manuscript to be for lute or harpsichord (the manuscript recently sold for more than 2.5 million euros-see the following link for details and a very cool video which shows the manuscript: https://www.christies.com/features/Johann-Sebastian-Bach-autograph-manuscript-7497-3.aspx) However, there is much scholarly debate as to whether or not the piece was actually intended for lute, as some lutenists and scholars have found the writing style more suited for harpsichord then lute. Regardless of its original instrumentation, this is an excellent and beautiful piece that has become a staple of the classical guitar repertory.

A couple of noteworthy features include nearly constant forward motion rhythmically (except for measure 40 and 48), the use of all closely related keys (the piece is in D Major and modulates to A Major, e minor, b minor, f# minor, G Major, and even uses the key of g minor, which is the parallel minor of the subdominant). The form of the piece involves the theme or main musical idea being repeated and varied in different keys in between short musical statements that appear to be both related and distinct from the main idea. In addition, the piece utilizes several pedal tones on the tonic, a couple of memorable bass lines that are repeated with small variation in order to accommodate the current key (the bass line in measures 4-5 repeats in mm 17-18, 23-25, 36-38; and the bass line in measures 11-13 repeats with slight variation in mm 30-33).

Big picture analysis: the theme or main idea appears in measures 1-5 (D Major), 6-8 (A Major), 14-18 (b minor), 25-27 (G Major), and 42-44 (D Major), with a Coda from measures 45-48 in the tonic key.

Phrases and cadences: mm 1-6 (IAC), 6-11 (IAC), 11-14 (IAC), 14-19 (IAC), 19-25 (IAC), 25-30 (IAC), 30-33 (HC), 33-38 (IAC), 38-42 (PAC), 42-48 (IAC with a 4-3 suspension).

Pedal tones: mm 1-4 (D), 6-9 (A), 14-17 (B), 25-28 (G), 42-46 (D).

Hope you enjoyed this brief analysis of the BWV 998 Prelude! As always, feel free to reach out if you have any comments, questions, suggestions, or insights relating to this piece or analyzing Bach in general, as there are many aspects of Bach’s music that can yet be discovered and discussed.

See below for some fascinating and informative sources/references regarding this piece: http://brandon.multics.org/music/articles/ReadingBach.pdf, http://www.johnhallguitar.com/blog/prelude_analysis_bwv_998_by_j.s._bach/, https://www.allmusic.com/composition/prelude-fugue-and-allegro-for-lute-in-e-flat-major-bwv-998-bc-l132-mc0002369008

Variations Mignonnes from Bardenklange Op. 13 by Mertz Part 2

In the first part of this mini-series, I discussed Mertz’s career as a guitarist and composer, some of the influences behind Variations Mignonnes, and analyzed the first two variations. This post will analyze the third and last variation, with a focus on some of the different variation techniques that are used. Note: the measure numbers for this variation pick up where variation 2 left off. Thus, the first measure of this variation is marked in this post as mm 92, not mm 1.

Unlike the previous two variations, variation 3 begins on an 8th note pickup and utilizes many pedal tones on the tonic and dominant notes that serve to heavily reinforce the tonic key. While the harmonic progressions are similar to the first two variations (though with a slower harmonic rhythm), there is a change of melody, which is more chromatic and does not seem to be directly related to the melody of the theme. There is also a change of meter, as this variation is in 6/8 time, and imitation between voices occurs in measures 118-119, 122-123, 126-127, and 130-131. It should also be noted that there are three contrasting sections in this variation, each of which derives its distinctive character from a regularly recurring rhythmic pattern. The first section (mm 92-118) features a quarter note, 8th note, dotted 8th note, 16th note, and 8th note rhythmic figure that first shows up in mm 94 and comes back six times in the section. The second section (mm 118-157) uses several rhythmic figures, the first being the dotted 8th note, 16th note, and 8th note figure from the first section, which is followed by a 16th note chromatically descending melody accompanied by 8th note pedal tones (throughout mm 118-126). An 8th note and four consecutive 16th note rhythmic figure is found in mm 134-136, adding interest and contrast to the preceding material. Another important rhythmic figure is the 8th note, two 16th notes, and 8th note figure, which is found in measures 138-145, 199-202, and 211-214.

Big picture analysis: introduction (mm 92-93) in tonic, 1st section (mm 93-118) in tonic, relative major, 2nd section (mm 118-157), tonic, relative major, repeat of introduction (mm 158) in tonic, exact repeat of 1st section (mm 159-182) tonic and relative major, 3rd section (mm 183-214) in tonic, outro in tonic (mm 215-228).

Phrases and cadences: mm 93-97 (IAC), 97-101 (PAC in C Major), 101-105 (HC), 106-109 (HC), 110-113 (IAC), 113-118 (IAC), 118-123 (HC), 124-127 (IAC), 128-131 (HC in C Major), 132-133 (HC in C Major), 134-137 (DC), 138-141 (IAC), 142-145 (HC in C Major), 146-149 (HC), 150-153 (HC), 154-157 (HC), 159-182- same phrases and cadences as mm 93-118), 183-186 (HC), 187-190 (HC), 191-194 (HC on V of iv), 195-198 (HC on vii dim 7 of V), 199-202 (extended HC), 203-206 (HC on V of iv), 207-210 (HC on vii dim 7 of V), 211-214 (extended HC), 215-218 (HC), 219-224 (PAC), 224-228 (extended PAC).

Pedal tones: mm 92-94 (tonic), 102-109 (dominant), 116-117 (dominant), 120-121 (tonic), 124-125 (dominant), 128-129 (tonic), 132-133 (5th of dominant in C Major), 147 (VI), 148-149 (dominant in C Major), 152-153 (dominant), 158-159 (tonic), 181-182 (dominant), 199-202 (dominant), 203-205 (tonic), 211-214 (dominant), 219-222 (tonic).

I hope that this post will help some fellow guitarists who are learning this piece to better understand some of the compositional techniques behind the memorable melody and driving rhythms of this work. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions, suggestions, or insights relating to this post.

Variations Mignonnes from Bardenklange Op. 13 by Mertz Part 1

Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) was a prominent guitarist-composer during the early to mid 19th century. Originating from Hungary, Mertz learned to play guitar and flute as a child, started to teach music lessons during his teen years to help support his family, and composed music for guitar throughout his life. His career as a concert guitarist began at age 34 in Vienna, where he received patronage and was hailed as the greatest living guitarist of his time. In addition, Mertz toured throughout Europe to great acclaim from this point until 1846. In 1846, he had a near fatal overdose of strychnine, which was taken in an attempt to treat neuralgia. For the next two years, Mertz’s touring was suspended. During this period, Mertz wrote Bardenklange Op. 13, one of his greatest and best-known works, and resumed touring from 1848 until his death in 1856. In his later tours, he often performing with his wife Josephine Plantin, who was a skilled pianist. Interestingly, for the majority of his career, Mertz played a 10 string guitar with extra lower strings to create a deeper and wider range (see this article for a comprehensive overview of multi-bass and harp guitars: https://www.earlyromanticguitar.com/erg/multibass.htm)

This set of variations by Mertz was written as part of Bardenklange Op. 13, a work consisting of thirteen original character pieces as well as Mertz’s arrangements of two Polonaises (a slow march-like Polish dance in 3/4 time) by Michel Kleofas Oginski. The word bardenklange means ‘bardic sounds’, a probable reference to the work being influenced by the music of bards (Medieval poets). One of the distinguishing characteristics of this work is that it is influenced by the piano works of Romantic Period composers Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, and Mendelssohn rather than the classical forms of Mozart and Haydn or Rossini’s operas, which strongly influenced the works of previous guitarist-composers such as Sor, Aguado, and Giuliani. This combination of poetic and musical influences can be seen in the relatively simple theme being creatively varied without significant changes to the underlying harmonic progression, which is for the most part diatonic. Each variation is short in duration and is aptly described by the title ‘Variations Mignonnes’, which can be roughly translated as ‘petite variations.’

In this post, I will analyze the introductory section and first two of the three variations. The Introduction (measures 1-19) has a stately character, is in 4/4 time, and outlines the tonic key of A minor by emphasizing the tonic and dominant harmonies and using pedal tones on the tonic (measures 9-10) and the dominant (measures 11-12). The Theme (measures 20-35) is in 3/4 time, the melody is stated in the top voice, and marks the first appearance of the 16 measure harmonic progression that is repeats several times during the course of the piece.

Variation 1 (measures 36-51), also in 3/4, features the same harmony as the theme and what seems to be a different melody in the middle and upper voices, and the rhythms used consist primarily of  8th notes. In Variation 2 (measures 52-91), the theme is in the top voice and is embellished with a recurring triplet on the first beat of each measure from mm 52-67. Measures 67-91 feature 16th note arpeggios outlining the tonic and dominant harmonies, resulting in the extended length of this variation.

Phrases and cadences: mm1-4 (HC), 5-8 (IAC), 9-13 (Elided IAC), 13-16 (HC), 17-19 (HC), 20-23 (HC), 24-27 (PAC), 28-31 (HC), 32-35 (PAC), 36-39 (IAC), 40-43 (PAC), 44-47 (HC), 48-51 (PAC), 52-55 (HC), 56-59 (PAC), 60-63 (HC), 64-67 (PAC), 68-71 (IAC), 72-78 (HC), 78-82 (Elided HC), 82-85 (IAC), 86-91 (HC).

Sonatina by F.M. Torroba, 3rd movement (Allegro)

The third and final movement of this work returns to the driving rhythmic feel of the first movement, though with even more intensity. It is also the longest (272 measures) and most technically difficult movement of the work (rapid alternation and arpeggios for the right hand and stretchy chord voicings for the left hand). This movement modulates to several keys, including (but not limited to) the modulations to the subdominant and bIII keys that occur in the first movement. In addition, it is in rondo form (A, B, A, C, A, B, A) and uses cyclicism, which means that material from a preceding movement is repeated in a different movement. In this case, material from the second movement is borrowed for use in the third movement, creating a brief moment of calm before being supplanted by the driving rhythmic feel that is a constant throughout most of this piece. One characteristic that is present in all three movements is the use of a repetitive rhythmic motive which establishes continuity despite the modulations and variation of thematic content. This movement is no exception and features a 1 measure long rhythmic motive consisting of four sixteenth notes followed by an eighth note. It appears in all sections of the piece except for the C Section, can be found in multiple voices, and is not varied even when the key, melody, or harmonies have been changed. Another constant is the Spanish folk music influence in the melody that is contrasted by harmonies reminiscent of western classical music or jazz. Overall, this Sonatina is a lot of fun to play and is an exceptional feat of compositional skill that is made even more impressive by the fact that Torroba was not a guitarist. As Andres Segovia himself noted regarding his collaboration with Torroba, “in spite of his scant knowledge of the guitar’s complex technique, he approached it accurately by sheer musical instinct.”

Big picture analysis: A Section-measures 1-33 (A Major-tonic), B Section-34-56 (subdominant), A Section-57-121 (A Major, F minor, C minor, C Major), C Section 122-146 (C Major, F minor, F# Major), A Section-147-170 (F# Major, B Major), return of material from 2nd movement-171-189 (subdominant), Recapitulation-A Section 190-221 (tonic), B Section-222-256 (subdominant, tonic), A Section-257-272 (tonic).

Phrases and cadences: mm1-5 (IAC), 5-9 (PAC), 9-13 (PAC), 13-17 (HC), 17-21 (HC), 21-25 (PAC), 25-29 (PAC), 29-33 (HC in subdominant), 34-41(PAC), 41-45 (PAC), 46-49 (PAC), 50-56 (HC), 57-60 (IAC), 61-65 (PAC), 65-68 (HC), 69-73 (HC), 73-76 (HC), 77-81 (PAC), 81-88 (IAC in F minor), 88-93 (IAC in F minor), 94-98 (PAC in F minor), 98-101 (HC), 102-105 (HC), 106-110 (IAC), 110-114 (PAC), 114-118 (PAC), 118-121 (IAC), 122-125 (bII-no clear cadence), 126-130 (DC), 131-134 (DC), 135-138 (HC), 139-143 (HC in F# Major), 143-147 (PAC in F# Major), 147-151 (IAC), 151-155 (PAC in B Major), 156-166 (IAC in F# Major), 167-171 (HC in subdominant), 171-172 (HC in subdominant), 173-181 (bII), 182-185  (HC), 185-189 (HC), 190-193 (IAC), 193-197 (PAC), 197-201 (PAC), 201-205 (HC), 205-209 (HC), 209-213 (PAC), 213-217 (PAC), 217-221 (DC), 222-225 (HC), 226-229 (HC in subdominant), 230-237 (PAC), 237-240 (PAC), 241-245 (IAC in F Major), 245-250 (IAC in F Major), 251-257 (HC), 258-261 (IAC), 261-263 (IAC), 264-267 (PAC), 268-272 PAC.

Sonatina by F.M. Torroba, 2nd Movement (Andante)

The second movement presents a stark contrast to the first movement in terms of key, tempo, rhythmic ideas, style, and overall musical content. This movement is in D Major, which is a closely related key (subdominant of A Major) and seems to be in expanded two-part song form, consisting of A (repeated) B A’ B’ Codetta. The tempo is marked andante but is often played more slowly and freely than the tempo marking indicates. The harmonic language is very colorful, featuring many extended chords and rich sounding sonorities, which are especially evident when a rhythmic of melodic motive is repeated multiple times, each time supported by a different harmony (this can be observed in measures 11-13 and 30-31). Another characteristic that should be noted is the use of drop D tuning, harmonics, and voicing chords on certain string sets in order to create more tonal variety. The entire piece is played in drop D tuning, artificial harmonics appear many times (measures 4, 16, 17, 23, 25, 32, 34, and 35), and measures 28 and 29 are nearly exact repetitions of each other, except that the chord on the first beat is played with open strings in measure 28 but is played with an open A string and fretted notes on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings in measure 29.

Big picture analysis: A section (repeated)-mm1-8, tonic. B Section-mm 9-19, keys of G Major (subdominant of the tonic) mm 9-10, C minor mm 11-14 (minor iv of G Major, not closely related to the tonic), A Major mm 15-16, tonic mm 17-19. A’-mm 20-27, tonic, slight melodic variation of A. B’-mm 28-31, tonic, repetition of material from B Section, this time transposed to the tonic key. Codetta-mm 32-36, tonic.

Phrases and cadences: mm 1-4 (HC), mm 5-8 (HC), mm 9-14 (HC in C minor), mm 15-17 (PAC in dominant), mm 17-19 (HC), mm 20-23 (HC), mm 24-27 (PAC), mm 28-31 (HC), mm 32-36 (PAC).

Interesting/unusual chords: lots of extended chords such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths. For instance, measure 6 has an E9 chord, measure 7 has an A13 chord, measure 9 has a D13 chord followed by an unusual voicing of a G major 7th chord in third inversion (root on 4th string, third on open 2nd string, fifth on 3rd string, and seventh on the 5th string), and the 3rd beat of measure 15 features an E11 chord with no third. Other interesting and/or extended chords can be found in measures 16, 17, 25, 28, 31, 32, and 35.

Sonatina by F.M. Torroba, 1st Movement (Allegretto)

To understand some of the musical ideas present in this Sonatina, it will be helpful to briefly discuss the background of the composer, recurring themes in his work, and performer(s) who contributed to popularizing this piece. Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) was a classical and opera composer from Spain during the early-mid 20th century, and is best known for his guitar works and for developing a Spanish light opera form known as the Zarzuela. He also was a conductor and an impresario, which is a fancy word for managing and organizing musical events such as concerts, operas, and other musical events. Torroba was not a guitarist, but when he met Andres Segovia for the first time in 1918, Segovia asked Torroba to write some music for guitar. Torroba obliged and wrote music for guitar (in addition to writing music for many other instruments) for the rest of his life. His total output for guitar consists of around 80 pieces and features the influences of classical music, Spanish folk music, impressionism, jazz, and opera. This Sonatina was written in 1965, consists of three movements (Allegretto, Andante, Allegro), and was originally written for and performed by Segovia.

The first movement is in sonata form (which consists mainly of an exposition, development, and recapitulation) and has a distinct rhythmic feel that is driven by the rhythmic motive in the first measure, which shows up numerous times throughout the piece. However, the harmonies are just as intriguing as the rhythms and show the work of a composer very comfortable with the complex harmonies present in jazz and impressionistic music. To add even more variety and exploit the unique capabilities of the guitar, Torroba also utilizes contrasts in dynamics and tone color throughout the piece.

Big picture analysis: Exposition (repeated, with first and second endings)-measures 1 to 32, theme 1-measures 1-16 (tonic, subdominant), theme 2-measures 17-24 (dominant), closing theme-measures 25-32 (dominant). Development-measures 33-60, (modulates to C Major, D Major, G Major, and E Major before returning to the tonic), utilizes exact and modified repetition of rhythmic motives in the Exposition. Bridge-measure 60-61, acts as a lead-in to the next section. Recapitulation-measure 62-89, all themes from the Exposition reappear, this time all in the tonic key. Coda-measures 89-100, in the tonic, uses and modifies rhythmic motives and material from the Exposition and Development.

Phrases and cadences: mm2-8 (PAC), 9-12 (PAC in subdominant key), 13-16 (PAC), 17-20 (HC of ii), 21-24 (HC in dominant), 25-31/32 (HC), 33-36 (DC in bIII key), 37-40 (HC in subdominant), 41-43 (HC in bVII key), 44-47 (HC in bIII key), 48-51 (HC in dominant), 52-55 (DC), 56-59 (HC), 60-61 (HC), 62-68 (PAC), 69-72 (PAC), 73-76 (PAC), 77-80 (HC), 81-84 (HC), 85-89 (PAC), 89-90 (DC), 91-95 (HC), 96-100 (PAC).

Interesting/unusual chords: mm14, 2nd chord-borrowed bVI7 from parallel minor, no 3rd, mm25, 2nd chord-borrowed bVI7 from parallel minor, this time with the 3rd and in 3rd inversion; mm27, 2nd chord and mm28, 2nd chord-biii chord from parallel minor, same chord and voicing in mm27 and mm28. However, the chord is played on a different string set each time for contrasts in tone; mm37-V9 chord that can be viewed either as a c#m7b5 or A9 with no root; mm49-secondary dominant of V in 3rd inversion.

Why it matters: these types of analysis help develop your interpretation, know which musical lines or harmonies to bring out, develops a greater appreciation for the music as a whole, and breaking up a piece of music into sections helps you to learn it faster and in a more comprehensive manner.


Hi Everyone!

My name is Ben Riley and I am a classical and acoustic guitarist, singer, songwriter, writer, and music educator. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Nyack College, and am a graduate of Berklee College of Music’s Master Guitar Certificate Program. I perform at many venues throughout New York and New Jersey, and teach guitar, bass, mandolin, ukulele, and beginner piano. I have written and presented on numerous topics relating to music and education at colleges and universities in New York. I am currently a graduate student at Hunter College (M.A. in music with a concentration in music theory). Fun Fact: I grew up as an unschooler and never attended school until I stepped into a college classroom.

I am also a music nerd and love to dissect the pieces that I am working on and research their historical background. I do this to learn the music faster, improve my interpretation, understand the musical and cultural context of the music, and most of all, to learn from the great composers whose works have stood the test of time.

As its name suggests, this blog will focus on discussing and analyzing some of the pieces that I have learned and am currently learning with an emphasis on practical application to performance and musicianship. This blog is my way of simultaneously sharing some of what I’ve learned about music as well as to continue to learn more about the repertoire of this incredible instrument. I am very excited to begin this journey and hope that this blog will be helpful to all who are interested in the music of the classical guitar. Welcome to the world of Classical Guitar Analysis!