Manuel Ponce was a Mexican pianist and composer whose style underwent a profound change in midlife; his works are clearly divisible into two types.
The earlier style was derived primarily from the brilliant salon style of Moszkowski and Chaminade, and is represented by numerous light works for the piano and a huge quantity of sentimental songs. After studying with Dukas, Ponce developed a style that combined French Impressionism and neo-Classical contrapuntal techniques. Most of his guitar music and the majority of his more serious and larger works were written in this style. In addition to the songs and early piano works, Ponce composed a piano concerto, several large symphonic works for orchestra, the Concierto del sur for guitar and orchestra, which was premiered by Segovia, some chamber music, two piano sonatas, and a large quantity of guitar music.
Born in 1882, Ponce had no important teachers during his childhood in Mexico. In 1895 he was made organist of Saint Diego, Aguascalientes, and in 1900 he went to Mexico City to study piano with Vicente Mañes. From 1901 until 1904 he supported himself as an organist, teacher and music critic back in Aguascalientes. Ponce left for Europe in 1904, giving his first recital abroad in St. Louis on the way. He stayed in Berlin, teaching and concertizing until his return to Mexico City in 1909 to succeed Castro as the piano instructor at the Mexico City Conservatory. During this time, his compositions became fairly popular in Latin countries, and his renown grew; he became conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra from 1917-1919. In 1925, Ponce moved to Paris and edited a music periodical; it was during this period that he studied with Dukas and reformulated his compositional style. He returned to Mexico in 1933, and remained there until his death. Many of Ponce's earlier works have faded into obscurity, but some of his songs, particularly Estrellita (1914), became enormously popular, and are still occasionally performed. Although most of his guitar pieces have become part of the standard repertory, his major works are seldom performed outside of Mexico.