No, this is not something I have ever said. Neither is it something said to me by a wife, girlfriend, colleague or audience member. No...it was my mom, and it was the launching point for my teenage rebellion which has turned into my lifetime of affection for this great contributor to our repertoire.
This post will serve as a prelude to my thoughts about preparing Ponce's Sonata Romantica. I'm a manuscript geek, and for several years I've had a copy of the manuscript to this piece, and have even trotted out the Second Movement as an encore on a few occasions (can't remember if I proudly exclaimed "The manuscript version.." to audience members that probably wouldn't care, but my apologies if I did). I've been experiencing a fascinating debate in my head over such issues as which version to use, Segovia or manuscript, does the published edition represent the composer's final thoughts, or is the musical core in the original. I will hash through these unanswerable questions over the next few posts, but first, I wanted to share my personal struggles and triumphs with Ponce over the years, and perhaps maybe we can all understand why I care so much that in the 2nd movement, Ponce clearly marks "forte" in measure 43, while the Segovia edition states "piano".
The indomitable Mrs. T was a strong influence on my musical development. She proudly proclaims she played me Sibelius symphonies while I was in utero, and, I in fact, love this composer above most. She also was, self-admittedly, the "worst guitar student ever", but she encouraged my brother and I that perhaps this was not genetic, and encouraged us to study. I have many stories about my awesome parents and how they helped, but the first time I ever felt my Mom was wrong was when she passed by my room and I was practicing one of Ponce's 12 Preludes. Can't remember which one. She poked her head in, looked at the music stand and said "Oh god...boring, boring ponce". I then remember she used to have the same expression when we would go to a concert, and Ponce was on the program. By all rights, I should have hated Ponce because of the influence, but I became very aware of her dislike in my mid-teens, and aversion turned to fascination. This was my teenage rebellion. No drugs or piercings...just Theme, Varie & Finale. My brother and I would always put Ponce on our programs, perhaps to declare our individuality, but I suspect more-so that my Mother made us wear snow-pants to school in the winter till we were 10. (To a 10 year old Canadian boy, snow-pants may just have well been a skirt). My first recital at university featured Sonatina Meridional, my senior recital contained the Variations and Fugue on Folia d'Espagna, my first solo concerts after the Meyer-Thachuk Duo split up had the Four Pieces..and so on. I've been through 3 copies of the Segovia-Ponce letters...you get the idea. Ponce is usually on my mind. For all the things my mother has given me, I've yet to thank her for backing me into a corner with Ponce.
Sept. 1990: Maestro Eli Kassner is talking to his long-haired student (me) who came to lessons with spandex under his ripped jeans. I explain that I wanted to do Ponce for my recital. He pulls out an old copy of the Sonatina Meridional. As we work through the piece together, the knowledge of a master teacher shines through: "Measure 29..no..that's a C natural" "Take this note out", "These are meant to be rasgueado"...I was stunned at the things that he knew that weren't written, and then, the great reveal...
Maestro Kassner pulls out manuscript paper and writes out several bars to insert at m. 135 and several more at m. 147. I felt like now I had secret information that only a select few would know (I later learned that these were on the Segovia recording) and I was now part of the great oral tradition of Ponce. I practiced these new measures harder than any other, and played them with anticipation and confidence every time they came around. Eli Kassner had helped me make the next step as a musician, where music comes off from the page. Music became a living entity that existed through time and was about shared experience. I will never forget this lesson and how this small event changed me.
After many years of being a nomad, I lost that treasured piece of paper that Eli gave me, but was reminded of it when I flipped to the back of Tilman Hoppstock's Urtext version of Ponce works and there were the corrections and additions.
Finally, March 2005, Culiacan, Mexico. On break from teaching a masterclass, I wander over to the vendor's table. I'm in Mexico, I know what I'm looking for. I had once seen a book in Germany published by Schott and edited by Alcazar. It was thick, and had all the major works of Ponce for the guitar, but there were manuscript sources and documentation on the pieces. I thought that this book would be around for a while, so I didn't buy it. Over the following 2 years, I couldn't find it. I searched the internet, no one was selling it. It was at the point that I figured I had imagined it. But in Culiacan...there it was!! I asked the vendor to set it aside while I went to get money. I returned 5 minutes later..only to find Marcin Dylla walking away from the table, thumbing through it. Because he's a friend, I didn't launch into a tirade, but I did approach him with purpose. He looked up at me with a grin and said "Great book!!" and seemed to be very happy in the "original source geek bliss" that I can appreciate. How I could I deny someone the thrill? And after seeing him perform Sonata Romantica, I'm only too glad that he did walk away with my holy grail.
Fortunately for me, the excellent and thorough Tilman Hoopstock Urtext version is now available, so I have enough Ponce-geek material for a little while. My next post will be about how I approach the first movement as a practicing guitarist with a wealth of information and rich musical material at my fingertips.
If you take anything from this post, I want to encourage people to have a relationship with the pieces they play. The stories you have about your interactions with a piece or composer will help the music exist in the present. Stories (and myths) are the soul of society and they put us in touch with each other and our shared histories. If you are playing a composer or work for the first time, always think about your story with the music that you are beginning, and one day that you can tell a student, an audience, a colleague, or..a blog...about your history with music.