Suite en la mineur
Ponce, Manuel M. Suite en la mineur. Edited by José Luis González. Paris: Éditions Musicales Transatlantiques, 1983.
Weiss, Silvius Leopold. Suite in la. 6th ed. Edited by Miguel Ablóniz. Ancona, Italy: Bérben, 1980.
Weiss, Silvius Leopold. Suite in A minor. Edited by Laurindo Almeida. N.p.: Brazilliance Music Publishing, n.d.
Timing: 18'. . . this time Segovia wanted to play a joke on Kreisler, who put in the first part of his concerts works by Pugnani . . . which were in fact his own. Segovia was going to share a concert with him and asked Ponce to write a piece in the style of Bach; Ponce composed this marvelous suite.7
The famous Suite en la mineur was written in Paris during 1929 in response to Segovia's request for a work in the style of Bach. Fearful that his Kreislereque prank would be obvious if the suite was attributed to Bach, Segovia persuaded Ponce to use Weiss as a pseudonym. However, its success as a "Weiss Suite" was due to the public's slender knowledge of the Baroque style rather than Ponce's quasi-Baroque techniques. Although Ponce used the Baroque forms and techniques in a masterful manner, his personality is evident in the obvious stylization of Baroque devices, the use of romantically tinged lyricism, an idiomatic and sometimes virtuosic use of the guitar, and modern twists of harmony. In spite of its pretentious beginnings, this suite is one of the masterworks of 20th century guitar literature.
Unlike Suite Antigua, the Suite en la mineur is often performed and has been recorded in its entirety by major performers such as Segovia (Angel ZB-3896), Masayuki Hirayama (Resco 66.21537) and Alice Artzt (Meridian E77041). The suite has been published several times as a "transcription" of eighteenth-century lute tablature by profiteers.8 Significantly, Segovia's manuscript copy served as the basis for the first publication of this work under Ponce's name by Éditions Musicales Transatlantiques in 1983.
Closely modeled after the binary dances of the Baroque suite, this work is in five movements: Preludio, Allemande, Sarabande, Gavotte and Gigue. The courante, normally after the allemande in the Baroque suite, is omitted. Although there are no thematic connections between the movements, the stylistic unity of the quasi-Baroque technique and the well balanced sequence of dances creates a dynamic and musically coherent whole.
While light in texture--predominantly a single melodic line supported by slow moving basses--the Preludio is rhapsodic and tense due to the avoidance of cadences and extensive use of pedal tones: e.g., 26 out of 53 measures use an A or E string pedal.
This movement is organized according to the outlines of an A B A' form: mm. 1-18, ascending scales over a tonic pedal; mm. 19-34, an arpeggio pattern featuring passing modulations and chromatic harmony; and mm. 34-53, an abbreviated restatement of the first section.
Ex. 12. Suite en la mineur, Preludio, p. 1, m. 1-4
The Preludio ends with a feeling of urgency and anticipation achieved with the use of an extended arpeggio passage over a tonic pedal preceding the final cadence of viio/I pedal I.
The Allemande is largely based on a four-note motive:
Ex. 13. Suite en la mineur, Allemande, p. 3, m. 1-2
While pedal tones in the bass are not used, idiomatic use is made of other open strings. For example, in m. 14-15 a pleasing succession of dissonant arpeggios are created as the chord changes against the open b and e1 strings:
Ex. 14. Suite en la mineur, Allemande, p. 3, m. 14-15
Like the gigue, this movement has a virtuosic character and requires a formidable technique to do justice to the constant sixteenth note motion, sudden position shifts and difficult barré positions.
The Sarabande, in the major mode, is based largely on a neighboring tone motive. In contrast to the homophonic textures and style brisé of the other movements, the Sarabande features more contrapuntal techniques, especially imitation, and maintains three distinct voices. While the bass has little melodic involvement in the Preludio, Allemande and Gavotte, the bass in the Sarabande participates in the thematic discussion and maintains a polarity with the soprano.
Although simply entitled Gavotte, this movement is structured in the manner of a gavotte I and II, i.e., two binary structures with a Gavotte I da capo at the end of Gavotte II. A highly idiomatic work, Ponce utilizes a slow moving bass predominantly made up of open strings which correspond to the tonic, dominant, subdominant chords and their inversions (e.g., the E, A and d strings): of the 68 total bass notes in the first gavotte, 46 of them are played on open strings. The first gavotte is in the minor mode and features arpeg giated textures and style brisé in eighth note motion:
Ex. 15. Suite en la mineur, Gavotte, p. 6, m. 1-4
In contrast, the second gavotte is in the major mode and features quarter note motion, block chords and a melodic bass.
In spite of its French title, the Gigue, in 6/8 time, is stylistically analogous to the Italian giga and is an exciting finale with its rapid arpeggios and running scales. The head motive, heard periodically throughout the movement, consists of five repeated notes in a quarter note and eighth note alternation. For example, after a virtuosic ascent to an a2, via the melodic minor scale, the head motive is stated and, in echo fashion, is heard in several lower voices:
Ex. 16. Suite en la mineur, Gigue, p. 12, m. 150-61
Although open basses are utilized extensively, the bass not only participates in thematic discussions, but sometimes dominates musically. In the example below, running scales alternate with an upper voice arpeggio in the manner of style brisé:
Ex. 17. Suite en la mineur, Gigue, p. 8, m. 5-8
Ponce probably wrote other pastiches besides those discussed in this survey. In 1939, after his music library had been destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, Segovia wrote Ponce and asked for copies of several unpublished manuscripts. Among the requested items were two sarabandes, one in E minor and another in A minor.9 The sarabande in A minor may belong to the Suite en la mineur; however, there are no sarabandes by Ponce in E minor, pastiche or otherwise, known today.
7Corazón Otero, Manuel M. Ponce and the Guitar (London: Musical New Services, 1983), p. 30-31.
8Ironically, Miguel Ablóniz, writing in the notes of his third edition of this suite (Ancona: Bérben, 1971), comments that a certain Swiss editor plagiarized his first edition in 1954! Moreover, Ablóniz admits to having transcribed this work from an early Segovia recording and that someone other than Weiss wrote it. Although hinted at, Ablóniz does not directly admit that Ponce wrote this piece and, in the three subsequent editions (1973, 1979 & 1980), continued to published this work as a Weiss suite.
9Otero, p. 55-57.
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