This song cycle was composed in Mexico City in the year 1939. Chronologically in the context of Ponce’s eight song cycles, it occupies the next-to-last position, succeeded only by the cycle entitled Three Poems by Enrique González Martínez, written between 1939 and 1940.
The texts that served to inspire his compositions were gleaned from the Cancionero de Palacio, an ancient musical codex found in Madrid that had belonged to the Catholic kings and which comprised the broadest catalogue of polyphonic profane songs of the time period at the end of the 15th Century and the beginning of the 16th. This important codex was later published on two occasions: first in 1890, when it was edited by Spanish composer-musicologist Asenjo Barbieri (1824-1894), under the title Cancionero Musical de los siglos XV y XVI; and secondly, in 1947 and 1951, when it was edited by Catalonian musicologist Higinio Anglés (1888-1969). Ponce was familiar with the Barbieri edition, and indeed he possessed a volume of it in his private library.
From this particular volume he selected six villancicos, extracting only the texts to set them to music with the melodies, rhythms, and harmonies that characterized his extraordinary neo-classical style, most prevalent in his works of the late 1930’s. When setting these poems, Ponce was able to achieve one of his greatest feats as a composer, fusing the ancient spirit of Renaissance (15th and 16th Century) Spain with his own modern musical language.
Seis Poemas Arcaicos and Estrellita have been recorded by guitarist Gregg Nestor and soprano Anna Bartos on their CD Cantares (Townhall Records THCD-44).
Mexico, D. F., May, 2011
Ponce studied in Paris for a time, where he befriended Andrés Segovia, among others. He wrote more than forty works for the guitar, and fifty popular songs and song cycles. With its beautiful melody and poignant verse, his beloved Estrellita, arranged here by Gregg Nestor, is a classic in song literature.