Granados’ Valses Poéticos: A Brief Historical Background

Perhaps best known for his piano suite Goyescas, Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was a pianist, composer, and music educator with a style firmly rooted in Spanish nationalism. Granados was born in Lèrida, Spain, studied piano and composition in Barcelona with Felipe Pedrell, and moved to Paris in 1887 to study piano with Charles de Bériot. Two years later, Granados returned to Barcelona, where he began a prolific career as a concert pianist, composer, and music educator. In 1901, Granados founded his own piano school, the Academia Granados, based on his teaching philosophy. Several prominent pianists attended the Academia Granados, most notably the Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha. As a composer, Granados wrote primarily for the piano, although he also composed songs, chamber music, and operas. His compositional style was heavily influenced by the music and culture of his native Spain. In 1914, Granados performed his piano suite Goyescas in Paris to great acclaim, which led to the Paris Opéra requesting that Granados compose an opera based on the composition. Granados accepted the request and collaborated with Fernando Periquet, who wrote the libretto. However, the events of World War I prevented the Paris Opéra from premiering this work. In 1916, the Metropolitan Opera premiered the opera, and Granados traveled to New York to assist with its production. The opera was met with an enthusiastic reception and much critical acclaim, although it never became an enduring part of the opera repertory. During his travels back to Europe, the ship he boarded was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the English Channel, resulting in the death of both Granados and his wife.

Valses Poéticos was originally written for piano, most likely between 1886-1894 (the exact date is not known). The work consists of eight short movements, including an Introduction and a Coda. Valses 1-4 were published in 1894 by Lustración Musical Hispano-Americana, and the remaining Valses were published by Casa Dostesio in 1900. All of the movements are in two-part form or three-part form. The Introduction is in 2/4 time and is played at a fast and lively tempo (Vivace molto), featuring a predominantly sixteenth note texture interspersed with staccato eighth notes that act primarily as transitions between the sections. As it’s tempo indication (Melodioso) suggests, Valse No. 1 features a beautifully lyrical melody in A Major, which is accompanied by a repeating pattern of arpeggiated chords. In the second section of the piece, the key changes to the parallel minor and the melody moves to the bass line before returning to the upper voice (and the original key) for a final statement of the main melody. Valse No. 2 (Tempo de Valse noble) is in F Major and has a noble yet expressive character. Valse No. 3 (Tempo de Valse lente) is in D minor, has a slow and memorable melody in the A section, which followed by a rhythmically contrasting B section in the parallel Major. Valse No. 4 (Allegro umoristico) is in Bb Major and, true to its tempo indication, is a bright, lively and somewhat humorous piece. Valse No. 5 (Allegretto (elegante) is in the same key as Valse No. 4. However, it is played at a moderate tempo that wonderfully showcases its gorgeous melody. Like Valses No. 1 and No. 3, it also modulates to a parallel key, though this time it changes key to the parallel minor in the B section. Valse No. 6 (Quasi ad libitum (sentimental) is a reflective and calm piece in F# minor. Valse No. 7 (Vivo) in A Major is a prodigious feat of technical capability, and Valse No. 8 (Coda: Presto) is in A Major and begins with rapid flights of melody and chromaticism before transforming into an exact repeat of Valse No. 1. Recurring elements in this work include a keen melodic sensibility, the use of two and three-part song form, and the utilization of parallel major and minor keys.


The Bach Cello Suites: A Brief Historical Background

J.S. Bach’s Six Cello Suites have been studied, performed, and recorded by countless musicians (including classical guitarists). They have become a fixture of the classical music repertoire. The Cello Suites have even made their way into contemporary mainstream culture via television performances, movies, videos, and radio. Most people have at least heard the opening notes of the Prelude to the first Cello Suite. As a result, their place in musical history appears to be exceedingly secure.

However, although the Cello Suites were composed approximately three centuries ago, there is much that is not known about this iconic composition.

First of all, the original manuscript is lost. Because of this development, we are left with many questions concerning the composition of the Cello Suites. We don’t know the exact date that they were composed, or what tempo, dynamics, or even instrumentation Bach intended for each movement. In other words, the Cello Suites could have been originally written for another string instrument! (see this fascinating article:

The earliest surviving manuscript of the Cello Suites was penned by Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach between 1727 and 1731, and is the source for most of what we know about the Cello Suites today. Interestingly, this manuscript was not written for a cellist. Instead, it was intended for violinist Georg Heinrich Ludwig Schwanenberger. Three other early manuscripts survive: one by J. Peter Kellner from the early-mid 1700’s, another by two unknown authors from the mid 1700’s, and yet another by an unknown author from the late 1700’s (all of these manuscripts can be viewed here:

Most of the Cello Suites were written around 1720, while Bach worked as Kapellmeister (Court Music Director) for Prince Leopold in Cöthen. During his time in Cöthen, Bach mainly wrote instrumental music for soloists or ensembles, and this output included six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, the six Cello Suites, and a Partita for solo Flute. Although nowadays pieces of music written for solo instruments are relatively common, in Bach’s time, it was quite unusual for music to be written for a solo instrument. This convention especially applied to a lower-pitched instrument such as the cello, which had previously been viewed as an accompaniment instrument. While Bach was not the first composer to write music for a solo instrument, his contribution to the cello repertoire was highly unusual at the time, and ultimately transformed the public’s perception of the capabilities and limitations of the cello. One of the most remarkable aspects of Bach’s compositions for solo instruments is that they tend to sound as if they are played by more than one instrument. Despite the cello’s inability to play full chords, Bach makes clever use of double stops, arpeggios, and alternating musical registers to create the illusion of harmony. The listener mentally “fills in” the remaining harmony notes without realizing that they are missing. As a result, the Cello Suites sound full and deeply resonant, even though they are played by a single instrument.

Bach used the dance suite form for the Cello Suites, and each Suite consists of six movements. Every suite begins with a Prelude, which tends to be dramatic, improvisatory, and full of character. This is followed by the Allemande, an elegant dance movement that was popularly performed but not often danced to during Bach’s time. After the Allemande comes the Courante, an upbeat dance of which there are two main types: the French Courante or the Italian Corrente. Bach usually used the Italian version in the Cello suites. The fourth movement consists of a Sarabande, which was originally a passionate and sultry Iberian dance, but by Bach’s time mellowed to a slow, longing character that was influenced by its use in French courts. The fifth movement is either a Minuet, Gavotte, or Bourrée, all of which possess a memorable, melodic, and generally joyful aesthetic. Lastly, all of the suites conclude with a Gigue, an animated and up-tempo dance movement with a big personality.

Bach (or his Cello Suites) were never famous in his lifetime. Before Pablo Casals’ groundbreaking recording of the Cello Suites in 1938, the Cello Suites were viewed as musically dry pedagogical studies. In fact, if Casals had not stumbled upon this work at a music shop in Barcelona as a teenager, the Cello Suites might still be shrouded in the dimly lit hall of musical obscurity. In the decades following Casals’ recording, multitudes of incredible cellists, violinists, violists, classical guitarists, and other instrumentalists have performed, recorded, and spread the word about the inimitable beauty and staying power of Bach’s Cello Suites.

Some cool resources:,,,,

Prelude #6 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 6 is the last prelude to be analyzed in this six part series on Manuel Ponce’s Preludes. It is my favorite of Ponce’s first 6 Preludes because of its beautiful melody, intriguing musical structure, and cohesive sound despite not being written in a song form. Like Prelude No. 5, Prelude No. 6 is in 2/4, combines modern music, Mexican folk music, and impressionist influences to create a sublime musical whole. The piece primarily uses an 8th note texture and utilizes auxiliary components (a simple introduction from mm 1-3 and a Coda from mm 34-40) but does not follow any traditional song form. Instead, the form of the piece is suggested by the melodic contour of each phrase. The entire composition seems to be derived from the first phrase (mm 4-8) after the introduction, as each subsequent phrase possesses a similar (and at times identical) melodic contour as the first phrase. In addition, this piece is the only one of the 6 Preludes to feature bitonality. The accompaniment is in the tonal center of A major, but the melody is in the key of D minor.

An A pedal tone is present throughout, and the accompaniment acts as a drone that supports the melody, although colorful impressionist harmonies are also present. A change of voice occurs in mm 21-24, in which the melody is played in the bass and middle voices, and a tone color change occurs in mm 29-33, in which the right hand plucks the strings towards the bridge of the instrument, creating a ponticello effect. The Coda consists of cadential material derived from the last two measures of the final phrase before the coda begins, and the piece both begins and ends on the same voicing of an A major chord.


Overview of 6 Preludes and Conclusion

Manuel Ponce and Andres Segovia’s 6 Preludes reflect the wide reaching influences of their composer, making use of elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music, 20th century music, the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel, and the unique characteristics of the guitar. The irregular phrases that occur throughout the work and the relatively small pitch range and lyricism of the melodies are elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music. The 20th century music influence can be seen most clearly in Prelude No. 3 and Prelude No. 6, neither of which ascribe to a traditional song form. In addition, Prelude No. 3 uses pantonality and Prelude No. 6 uses bitonality, two primarily 20th century harmonic concepts. The impressionist influence can be seen throughout the work in the often unusual and extended harmonies chosen for the accompaniment. The profound dynamic and tone color changes in Preludes 1, 2, 4, and 6, the change of voice in the melodies of Preludes No. 1 and No. 6, the use of harmonics in Prelude No. 2, and the use of open strings in Preludes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are all notable examples of Ponce and Segovia’s exploitation of the musical potential of the guitar. This extraordinary synthesis of styles and compositional approaches demonstrates Segovia and Ponce’s virtuosic skills, creativity, and commitment to musical excellence.

Some Cool Resources

Hope you enjoyed this mini-series on Ponce’s 6 Preludes! If you would like to learn more about Ponce, Segovia, the 6 Preludes, or any related topics, I highly recommend checking out the following resources:

“A History of Western Music” (somewhat pricy but an excellent and comprehensive resource for any music-related research)

“The Influence of Folk Music in Guitar Compositions by Manuel Ponce” by Arnoldo Garcia Santos. Absolutely fascinating dissertation on how folk music influenced Ponce’s compositional style!

“The Classical Guitar in Paris: Composers and Performers c. 1920-1960” by Duncan Robert Gardiner. Excellent thesis on the leading guitarists and composers in Paris working during the mid 20th century!

“Preludes (24) for Guitar” by Blair Johnston. Brief yet very informative overview of Ponce and Segovia’s Preludes.

“The Segovia-Ponce Letters” by Andres Segovia and Manuel Ponce. Fascinating book that is a great window into Segovia’s collaboration with many notable composers, including Manuel Ponce.




Prelude No. 5 by Manuel Ponce

The second to last piece in this series is Prelude No. 5, which is in 2/4 time, features the creative use of open strings, modal mixture, wide intervals in the melody, and has few definitive cadences. The piece is also in three-part song form (Simple Introduction, A, B, A’, Postlude), utilizes an eighth note texture throughout, and features irregular phrases. Like the preceding Prelude, the tonality of Prelude No. 5 is a modal mixture between B minor and B major, although in this piece B minor is the primary tonality. The combination of diatonic and secondary dominant chords with extended and Neapolitan chords, as well as the ambiguity of the cadences, demonstrate the intriguing blend of classical, folk, and impressionist influences that are an important characteristic of this work. See below for my analysis of Prelude No. 5:IMG_0488

Prelude No. 4 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 4 is a fast and lively piece in 3/8 and is written in regular three-part song form. The texture of the piece is primarily eighth notes. All phrases are irregular, the piece is primarily a modal mixture of the parallel keys of B major and B minor, the melody is similar in character to a Spanish gypsy song, and the harmonies include Neapolitan and extended chords. These developments exemplify the combination of folk, impressionist, and modern influences that is a constant throughout the work. The A section (mm 1-15) utilizes a B pedal tone from mm 1-7 and the harmonic accompaniment alternates between B major and B minor throughout the A section. This is followed by a transition that consists of an unaccompanied scale passage from mm 16-21 that leads into the B section. The B section features a stark change of texture to a largely unaccompanied melody from mm 25-28 that possesses characteristics that are similar to melodies sung in the style of Cante Jondo, a vocal and poetic style of Andalusian flamenco music that is known for setting melodies of a small pitch range to lyrics that typically convey deeply emotional subject matter. Like most Cante Jondo music, the melody features a narrow range and is primarily unaccompanied. Shortly thereafter, the key changes to G# minor, the relative minor of B major, and there is an extended half cadence from mm 33-36 leading to a varied repetition of the melody that first appeared in mm 25-28. There is also an F# pedal tone and impressionistic chord voicings from mm 41-49. The first phrase of the A section (A’) comes back in slightly modified form from mm 53-58, which is followed by a ten measure Coda that alternates between B major and its neapolitan chord, C major, ending on an imperfect authentic cadence in B major.

For more on Flamenco and Spanish gypsy music, check out this dissertation: (go to pages 5-6 to learn more about Cante Jondo music)

Prelude No. 3 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 3 is in several ways a composition that is significantly distinct from the other five Preludes. It is the only Prelude in this work that is completely through composed, meaning that there are no definitive sections and each phrase is different while also exhibiting some commonalities. It also is the shortest Prelude, consisting of only 19 measures, and has the slowest tempo of the 6 Preludes, being played at a graceful and somewhat free Andante. In addition, it is in F# major, which has more sharps than any of the other keys used in this work. Unifying factors in this piece include the melody being either unaccompanied or very lightly accompanied, sometimes by a bass line and occasionally by chords, which for the most part tend to be placed at the end of phrases to give the piece a sense of momentum. Also, imitation between the melody and bass line or the bass line and melody occurs in measures 1-3, 8-9, and measure 15. Phrases 2 and 4 have a similar melodic contour, as well as phrases 3 and 5. Phrases 1, 3, and 5 are irregular, though phrases 2 and 4 are of the normal four-measure length. A brief modulation to the chromatic mediant bIII key occurs in measures 10-11, before quickly modulating back to the tonic. Measure 17 uses pantonality, which is the use of nonfunctional and chromatic harmonies, to set up an imperfect authentic cadence that ends the piece. See below for my analysis of Prelude No. 3 (as well as the first 13 measures of Prelude No. 4):


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:, “The Classical Guitar in Paris: Composers and Performers c. 1920-1960” by Duncan Robert Gardiner:, “Preludes (24) for Guitar” by Blair Johnston:, “The Segovia-Ponce Letters” by Andres Segovia and Manuel Ponce. Edited by Miguel Alcazar.


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: 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:,,

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.