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Mercedes Arias, composer and musician, born in Ponce, Puerto Rico,

about 1880

Mercedes Arias

Mercedes Arias:

the eternal love of Juan Morel Campos
By Nestor Murray-Irizarry

  ''...every form of beauty is, then, a form of love.'' Mad. Gjertz

    Mercedes Arias was one of the great pianists and composers that Ponce had. Mercedes Arias-Ventura, daughter of José María Arias and Sinforosa Ventura-Castell, was born in 1862 in Ponce and died in her hometown on January 7, 1954. She was the eldest of five siblings: Josefa, Ricardo, Enrique-Blas and Antonio- Second. (1)
   With regard to this outstanding artist, I would like to point out some data on the social history of our City. Oral history narrates that it was the great love of the great Puerto Rican dance composer Juan Morel Campos, a purebred Ponce native. The love affair of Juan and Mercedes took place at night, in the beautiful grove that time built in the Callejón del Amor, today known as Paseo Arias, between Cristina and Comercio streets in the historic center of the Pearl of the South.

     It is possible that Mercedes' family was opposed to that courtship. Juan was of African descent, from a very poor family, and for many years they called him Juan Campos, pointing to him as a son without recognizing that he only carried his mother's surname. Fernando Callejo y Ferrer, our first historian of Puerto Rican music and musicians, pointed out that Arias "...was the inspirer of a great passion, without her soul traveling other fields than those of art, a synthesis of her loves." ( 2) His compositions, if not great works, are inspirations saturated with beauties, which he masterfully harmonized.  Renacimiento, Flores y Perlas, are two waltzes edited by the Otero y Co. house, which highlighted his facility for composing. He also composed dances.

     The Lcda. Gladys Tormes told me that the prominent businessman Efraín Figueroa also told her that Mercedes, days before she died, asked to be buried with the compositions on paper that Juan had dedicated to her. (3) Many of these prints of Morel's famous dances were printed in Europe and the US by Bazar Otero. Figueroa also told Gladys that Arias worked at the Fox Delicias Theater interpreting the piano scores that were already accompanied by the silent film reels. (The first talkies that were shown in Ponce were shown at the Teatro Habana.) Efraín told him that Mercedes is buried in the Perla del Sur Catholic cemetery. Arias studied music with Morel Campos at the famous Bazar Otero, located many years ago on Calle Atocha, in the same space that Bazar Atocha used to occupy. The father of dear friends Uchi, Edna and Toñito Penna bought this property in the 1940s.

     The Otero family has had a very prominent place in the history of our country. It is enough to remember Antonio (Totón) Otero, one of the founders and owners of Bazar Otero; Olimpio Otero, a well-remembered businessman and politician in Ponce, and Ana Otero, from Humacao, the most important pianist of her generation in the country. So Mercedes took two loves imprinted in her heart: the music of her Torment and the ink of her printer where she developed her musical talent.  

      Mercedes was also one of the favorite piano students of music teacher Julio Carlos de Arteaga.  This distinguished musicologist, born in Yauco and adopted son of Ponce, studied piano at the Paris Conservatory of Music where he won an award for his skilful execution of piano accompaniment. Arias always highlighted on more than one occasion her rare talents as a consecrated pianist. At evenings and concerts she received constant and well-deserved ovations, being widely applauded for the exquisite tuning and correct taste with which she executed the most difficult pieces of her vast repertoire. In 1928 Ponce organized a Symphony Orchestra. Mercedes was one of the first artists to be hired. Ponce's artistic life was very intense.

     Under the leadership of Juan Morel Campos, Mercedes Arias and the soprano Lizzie Graham, between 1850-1927, according to Héctor Campos Parsi, (4) there were performances, concerts, gatherings and recitals. Not content with being an artist of great qualities, she devoted herself to teaching, in which she was very successful, forming female disciples who honored her. In 1892, Mercedes held an audition with the aim of showing the advances obtained by the disciples who continued their musical studies under her direction. That night also demonstrated the excellent school he had and his great vocation for teaching. Several of her students showed off her talent: Amelia Serra, Lila Salazar, Leonor Valdivieso, Celina Besosa, María Rodríguez, Panchita Colon, Elisa Tavarez, María and Mercedes Laguna. (5)

     In her private treatment she was affable and kind, capturing the general sympathies of all by her sweet and attractive modesty. He worked as a teacher until he prematurely raised his soul to the heaven of charms with which he dreamed so many times in life. Mercedes Arias is linked to the group of women from Ponce who stood out in Puerto Rican music. We proudly remember Elisa Tavárez de Storer, Genoveva de Arteaga, Lola (Lolita) Tizol, Amalia Paoli, Arcela (Selita) and Consuelo Menchaca, Palmira Felicci, Lolita Aspiroz, among others. May women always live!    



( 1) Data provided by Eric Rodríguez.

(2) Nestor Murray Irizarry, editor. Fernando Callejo: Music essay. In commemoration of the publication of his book: Music and Puerto Rican musicians, Casa Paoli and Ediciones Gaviota, 2015. Pp.371.


(3) Roberto H .Todd indicated that the following dances by Juan Campos (sic) were inspired by Mercedes Arias to whom Todd ''…dedicated to the one and only ideal of Campos's life (sic) to a woman who never loved him nor could I share his love…” : Dream of love, Golden dream, Dreaming, I am happy, Your divine face, Have mercy, Absence,  Happy hours, Give in to my prayers, I can't live without you, Blessed be you. For you, Joys and sorrows, Absence, You love me, My pearl, Say you love me, Sublime soul, Yours is my life, Do not martyr me, Never without you, By your side to paradise, Your return, were written and dedicated by Campos to that beautiful ideal woman, an artist like him, a winner like him, and like the one loved by all of Ponce, having reached the goal of his artistic career in the best theaters in Europe and America as he had also arrived in the homeland'' .               

     But that love was impossible. The social distances between the two were insurmountable. Campos (sic) belonged to a different world from the one in which the goddess of his dream moved and although he esteemed her, to the extent that predilection could do it, the admiration that Campos (sic) had for her, knew how to disillusion him from the beginning by through friends of both: Tell him that can't be and never was, he told his friends. And they both died unmarried. And it is known that she had very good opportunities to join in marriage with gentle gallants when brilliant proposals were made to them both in Europe and on the island of Cuba.               

     There are those who believe that how prolific Campos (sic) was in composing those beautiful productions, which honored and continue to honor the country, was due precisely to the disappointment he had in his love affairs.'' [Roberto H. Todd, Campos y sus Danzas, El Mundo, January 10, 1943: 4 and 12.] For his part, the famous Puerto Rican writer José Agustín Balseiro commented that Morel Campos was a poet in everything and that the divinity of his compositions did not exceed the names with which he wrote them. baptized. ''Each one of them is a poem in itself and an indisputable success…'' According to Balseiro they are…suggestive phrases that speak, with sad eloquence, of the immense love that perfumed his never understood soul, because he was unaware that the men of powerful imagination are often like birds of powerful flight able to walk the earth '', as Goethe said. ´´[José A. Balseiro, Juan Morel Campos: The man and the musician. San Juan: Typography German Diaz, 1922.16 and 17.]  


(4) Hector Campos Parsi. In The Great Encyclopedia of Puerto Rico, Volume: Music. San Juan: Puerto Rico in hand and The Great Encyclopedia of Puerto Rico, Inc. p.179; 263.(5) News. La Democracia, May 10, 1892. February 26, 2018


Juan Morel Campos ( 1857 - 1896), was a Puerto Rican composer, considered by many to be responsible for taking the dance genre to its highest level. He composed more than 550 musical works before dying unexpectedly at the age of 38.

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