Reconstructing the lost manuscript of Ponce's Sonata III

Updated: May 19

The aim of today's blog is to present to you a version of the first movement of M.M.Ponce's Sonata III, which is probably closer to the composer's original idea than the version published by Schott. I wrote 'probably' because, as you know, the manuscript of this Sonata at the time of writing is still missing (or has not been made available yet, in case someone has it). Therefore, we will focus on highlighting the many anomalies present in the score, analyze them and offer a possible correct version, following in this only and exclusively criteria of a musical and phraseological order. For obvious reasons of space, I had to limit the analysis to the 1st movement only, which however is also the most complex. For those who wish to deepen the topic, there is the possibility to visit my website and book a video conference (with PowerPoint) on the whole sonata.

The phantom ‘piano’

The most frequent type of anomaly encountered is that at the point of arrival of a crescendo we suddenly encounter a 'piano' indication. However, if Ponce had wanted a sudden ‘piano’ at the end of crescendo he would have more logically indicated it with ‘piano subito’ (immediately piano). In addition, in all cases, once the climax of the crescendo has been reached, a series of chords in descending movement (and diminuendo) leads to a ‘piano’, which would not make sense if the 'diminuendo' already started in ‘piano’.

Throughout the Sonata, but also in all the other Schott editions of Segovia, one frequently comes across this type of illogical notation. The reason for this anomaly is as simple as surreal: the Schott printers have in fact naively confused the 'p' of 'pulgar', 'thumb' in Spanish, with the dynamic symbol for 'piano', which has, by the way, a completely different typographic layout. It is no coincidence that in the Segovia recording the chords on which the ‘phantom piano’ is placed are performed with the thumb of the right hand (except perhaps that of example 5, in which Segovia seems to use the other three fingers of the right hand).

Consultation of other manuscripts from the Segovia’s repertoire has only confirmed this suspicion. It goes without saying that the dynamics of countless passages and the consequent phrasing are completely deformed by such misinterpretation of the sign ‘p’. Therefore, the following passages should be corrected by placing a 'forte' at the peak of the ‘crescendo' and adding then a 'diminuendo' which leads to the ‘piano’ of the next phrase.

Below I report all the cases in which this happens and what I think should be the dynamic, according to principles of musical logic and phrasing:

  • Original (1):

  • Suggested performance (1):

  • Original (2):

  • Suggested performance (2):

  • Original (3):

  • Suggested performance (3):

  • Original (4):

  • Suggested performance (4):

  • Original (5):

  • Suggested performance (5):

Democracy above all...

On the third beat of bar 22 we find a C# minor chord in the first inversion without the 5th (G#):

Yet, the corresponding B flat minor chord of the Recapitulation appears complete (with F):

We don't see any reason to be so discriminatory and not to play it in its complete form (with G#) even in the Exposition.

A repeated mistake becomes easily true

In this other passage, the chord on the second beat of bar 34 has a flat on the B, which is very likely the fruit of another blunder of reading (or of an error in the manuscript):

In fact, this flat does not have a musical logic within the harmonic and emotional context in which it is located. Indeed, the series of immediately preceding chords clearly shows a succession of three Half-diminished chords in first inversion at a distance of a minor third, which build a strong tension due to their uneasy and harmonically unresolved character:

To put a Bflat7+ at the pick of this sequence it means to nullify the accumulated tension. Indeed, the Major 7th harmony, in a general way, is used in modern times for evoking a static and calm mood (iconic example: the beginning of Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1). So, I suggest correcting this B flat to B natural (see the last chord of the preceding example). On the other hand, why should one add a flat on a ‘B’ when there is already a B flat on the key signature?

Anyways, to remove any further doubt is the comparison with the corresponding passage of the Recapitulation (bar 134) in which the corresponding chord is in fact presented with the right note (G# and not natural):

We ask ourselves why Ponce accepted an incorrect note as correct and how this could have entered the class of 'untouchable' errors by right.

Anomalies Festival

From bar 48 begins an 8-bar phrase (48-53) which contains many anomalies. Let's analyze them one at a time.

  • Original (1):

It is immediately evident that at bar 51 there is an oddity in the conduct of the bass. The alternation IV-V, present in 49, expands over 2 bars in 50-51. But surprisingly, in 51, the 5th Dominant bass C, which should lead to the final tonal cadence to the Tonic F, is missing:

The error is quite easy to correct, given that in the Recapitulation, at the corresponding measure (151), we actually find the 5th (A) in the bass:

We can thus easily correct the same chord of the Exposition by adding the Dominant bass C:

  • Suggested performance (1):

However, it is rather interesting to observe that in the chord at bar 51 we find a G, the fifth degree. Yet, the corresponding note is not present in the same chord at the Recapitulation (bar 151). We can therefore correct it by simply adding the 5th, E, as follows:

  • Suggested performance (1b):

The second incongruity starts from bar 48. Here we find 3 bichords in the bass line, which unexpectedly are followed by only two single bass notes (?):

  • Original (2):

Why don't we also have here two bichords ? For bar 51 we actually have already found a solution. So, let’s seek a solution for the previous measure.

At bar 50 we can narrow the list of candidates to the D or F, respectively the 3rd and the 5th of the harmony of Bflat7+. It can be argued that if the note had been D, Segovia would not have removed it, since it can be comfortably performed on the {4} open string. On the other hand, the F can also be performed with the same degree of difficulty being on the same fret (8th) of the {6} string where the B flat of the bass must be played, hence easily playable through a barrè. Which note will we choose then? For reasons of sonority I propose the D, even though the F would complete the harmony of Bflat7+, resulting from the bichord (B flat-F) and the subsequent notes of the melody (D-A). Here the two possible options.

  • Suggested performance (2):

At this point, also the correspondent bar of the Recapitulation (n.149 et seq.) can be corrected as follows, in accordance with the bass part of 49 et seq. But differently than before, I propose in this case to complete the chord with its 5th degree (the D of Gmaj7+). Indeed, this D is once again on the {4} open string and fits therefore much better instrumentally and from the sonority point of view:

  • Suggested performance (2b):

Another inconsistency, present at bar 49, is easier to solve. The ligature of the B flat does not seem to have much musical meaning:

  • Original (3):

This first movement is uneasy and restless. Ponce uses with great genius and cleverness the rhetorical meaning of the rests on the beat. Indeed, this creates tension and a sense of anxiety (see also the 1st Theme). Once more, the comparison with the corresponding measure of the Recapitulation (bar 149) clarifies the misunderstanding. Indeed, instead of a tied G we find here a pause of the same value:

It will therefore be sufficient to replace the B flat of bar 49 with a quaver rest:

  • Suggested performance (3):

In bars 52-53 there is a rather inconsistent conduct of the bass when compared with that of the corresponding bars of the Recapitulation (152-153):

  • Original-Exposition (4):

  • Original-Recapitulation (4b):

It is clear that Segovia in this case made an absolutely acceptable instrumental choice, given the difficulty of playing all four F of 52-53 on the {6} string. Nonetheless, I propose to play these notes as Ponce most likely intended them, that is, all at the same height, on the {6} string. Indeed, the expressive crotchet rest of the upper voice enable us to ‘tie’ better the first chord with the bass, in spite of the great distance between them.

Alternatively, I recommend in any case to correct at least the first F of bar 52 by playing it one octave lower.

  • Original (4c):

The reasons are as follows:

  1. the octave jump before the last F, seems to unbalance the 'breath' in 2 beats of this passage into a phrasing of 3 + 1, instead of a more logical 2 + 2:

Moreover, the intersection of the voices at bar 53 between the bass (F on the second beat) and the tenor (E of the third beat) creates the perception that in the bass there is a melodic movement of 2nd minor, which in fact does not exist:

Another incongruity is present at bar 52 and/or 152. Indeed, the intervallic structure of the two corresponding chords is slightly but yet significantly different:

  • Original, Bar 52 (5):

(F - C = 5th)

  • Original, Bar 152 (5b):

(E - A = 4th)

The two possible corrections would therefore be:

  • Suggested performance (5):

  • Suggested performance (5b):

Yet, I personally believe that the latter is the correct one. In fact, as a contrast with the preceding joyful ‘scherzando’, the harmony of the descending Major7+ chords in both passages should evoke a sense of 'calm down', supported in this by the static bass repeated 4 times. By correcting the second chord as shown above in the first example, the harmony is changed from Fmajor7+ to C (with F as a pedal point). This harmony of dominant would create for a moment an unwished short 'bump' in the smooth harmonic course of this passage.

However, the most interesting anomaly of this passage is undoubtedly the interval structure of bar 51:

  • Original (6):

A comparison with the corresponding bar of the Recapitulation (151) clearly shows that the position of the first interval of 3rd is not the same:

  • Original (6b):

Apart from the greater pleasantness of the interval structure of 151, the F# of the example (6) works as a foreign body in the harmonic context of this bar (Cmajor9). My proposal is therefore to conform the intervals of 51 to those of 151. The whole passage (48-53) will therefore have, at the end of all corrections, the following aspect:

  • Suggested performance (6):

Come closer...

At bar 76-77 we find a oddly large intervallic distance between the bass and the tenor voices which suggests an arrangement of the passage by Segovia:

Therefore, in order to create a more balanced effect in the accompaniment I propose firstly to perform an octave lower the part of the tenor:

  • Suggested performance (7):

At this point, however, the melody would be at an abysmal distance from the accompaniment, which would result in a weird sonority on our instrument. This prompted me to set the melody in octava-harmonics, thus making up for the lack of balance through the color change. Among other things, the turn of atmosphere, from the previous stormy passage to this meditative section, makes this change very convincing:

  • Suggested performance (7b):

Dulcis in fundo

We have reached the end and the most controversial point of the entire Sonata: the second Theme in the Recapitulation. In the Exposition, the transition from the modulating bridge to Theme II takes place as follows:

  • Original (8):

Accordingly, in the Recapitulation the passage should have the following harmonic schema:

  • Suggested performance (8):

Instead, surprisingly, in the Schott edition we find:

  • Original (8b):

Yet, as we saw, accordingly to the harmonic schema of the Exposition, the second Theme should resonate in F# minor. It will surprise you somewhat to know that in the recording of Segovia (and also of Oscar Ghiglia) this Theme resonates precisely in this tonality, albeit with some small changes. In this way the intervallic relation in the Exposition within the 2nd Theme and the following episode (‘scherzando’) is preserved:

· Exposition: A minor (I degree) à F major (VI minor degree)

· Recapitulation: F# minor (I degree) à D major (VI minor degree)

Doing so it is also avoided the tonal monotony of the Schott version, where both 2nd Theme AND ‘scherzando’ are in the same tonality, with only the change of modus from D minor to D major. Here is the second theme, as it is played by the Spanish master (with some personal minor completions of the harmony):

  • Suggested performance (8):

It is difficult to establish the reasons that led to the publication of the second theme in D minor (with serious damage to the musical logic and to the 'dark' color of the Theme itself). And yet, the most stringent reason to prefer the version in F# minor lies in the following point. There is no doubt that the rise and arrival on the major seventh chord of F at bar 52 represents a climax of the Exposition. The melody climbs, using the off-beat incipit of bar 48 as a springboard, rising from F7+ to Bflat7+ up to the climax note E (VII degree of F7+) at the twelfth fret:

  • Original (9):

This gesture has something liberating and resolves the harmonic tensions accumulated during the restless Exposition.

Yet, in the Schott version, all of this is completely missing. Instead of a one-way ascent we have a clumsy attempt to climb immediately castrated in the middle of the jump:

Original (9b):

Moreover, the maximum ascent point sounds a 4th lower than the starting point. This situation is certainly to be attributed to the height, too high, in which the second theme starts in the tonality of D minor.

Therefore, I strongly suggest that you follow the version of Segovia (example 8)

Another lesson for the blind master's worshipers: as well as Rodrigo's Fandango (see please my blog about it), the master constantly changed and improved his revisions. So, it doesn't make much sense to get angry if someone else does the same (especially if it happens according to the manuscript of the composer, which is by the way missing today...).

I thank you heartily for having read this blog until the end and hope it will be of some use for you. Please, share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below, they are very welcome! Take care and see you next time!



P.S. Thousand thanks to Paolo for his always reliable help!!!

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