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Juan Antonio Mercadal: The Story of the Life of Cuban Guitarist
Up to the moment new evidence show a different story, the first guitarist born in the Island was José Prudencia Mungol in the 20th century. Among the teachers, Clara Romero de Nicola, Issac Nicola and José Vallalta have distinguished themselves whereas among the performers or composers have been Severino López, Elías Barreiro, Ildefonso Acosta, Ñico Rojas and the best of all: Leo Brower.

However, Juan Antonio Mercadal has been a remarkable artists who's importance has not been properly recognized. Born in Guanabacoa on February 12, 1925, he began his guitar studies with his father, Juan Ramón Mercadal -a disciple of Severino López--. He followed his studies with López who was his true educator as an artist. He also studied the clarinet and the trumpet at Conservatory Mateu and on a temporary basis he worked as a trumpeter of the Symphony Orchestra of Havana. His active role in the musical life of the capital should be highlighted. For instance, on April 27, 1940, Mercadal performed at the opening concert of the Sociedad Guitarrística de Cuba (Guitar Society of Cuba), headed by Clara Romero de Nicola, in which he played Fandanguillo of Joaquín Turina and Fernando Sor's Variaciones sobre un tema of Mozart. On July 31st of the same year, he performed again at the same institution. The program included Courante and Gavota of Johann Sebastian Bach-Andrés Segovia. He also played again Mozart's Variaciones sobre un tema.

A tireless worker, between 1942 and 1943, he performed at the Hispanic-Cuban Institution of Culture where a "recital was given by that outstanding talent of our music Juan Antonio Mercadal is". He played a great program with representative works of the different stylistic trends of the 18th up to the 20th century. In 1944, he performed at Club Atenas.

Apart from his work as a guitarist, Mercadal had a remarkable work as a transcriber. It's worth to mention what he did with Federico Händel's Sarabande, Joaquín Turina's Orgía and Pablo Sarasate's Aires bohemios. From 1949 on, and with violinist Alberto Bolet, he had a weekly radio program broadcasted on radio station CMBZ of the Ministry of Education at the time he worked as a guitar teacher at the Alfredo Levy Conservatory and the Escuela Metodista de La Habana (Methodist School of Havana).

By 1951 he was already a famous guitarist. Therefore, he made his first trip abroad, to Brazil specifically. There he met composer Heitor Villa-Lobos who gave him the score of his Doce studios for guitar and the Concierto for guitar and orchestra so that he would play them. He also met composer and pianist Radamés Gnatalli who dedicated his Concierto for guitar and orchestra to him. Back in Cuba, in 1954 Mercadal played the soundtrack of Cuban film Casta de roble, written by composer and conductor Félix Guerrero. In addition, he performed at several TV programs.

In 1960, he settled in Miami where in 1964 he became a member of the guitar chair of the Music Department of the University of the said city. As a guitarist he performed with the symphony orchestras of Brazil, Fort Myers, Waterloo, Winnipeg and Philadelphia as well as with the philharmonic orchestras of Miami and Jacksonville.
p>Mercadal died in Miami, the United States, on May 8, 1996.

Juan Antonio Mercadal's Concert

On August 18, 1942, at the Hispanic-Cuban Institution of Culture, a wonderful recital was given by that outstanding talent of our music Juan Antonio Mercadal is. Out of the presentation doctor Gerardo Castellanos made, we quote the following excerpt:

"The serenity of the environment, the artistic tradition of Guanabacoa as well as the techniques and education he received from his loving father -professor and guitarist Juan Ramón Mercadal- nourished him so well that at six he made his debut playing classics. His firm character, intimate artistic explosion, prodigious memory and divine assistance Segovia and Tárrega seems to have given him mysteriously contributed too to his education. He had the talent, of course. It was there. And his father polished it with tenderness and enthusiasm. And when the biological father is also the spiritual guide educating his son for this divine endeavor -for it's here where men don't fight- then a father becomes a father twice. This is a fortune only a few have had. And once that first mission was accomplished, Mercadal became a disciple of a privileged artist, a Cuban one, who's perhaps the most outstanding guitarist in terms of his technique in Cuba and in America: Severino López. This master, master at the same time of other disciplines, has been the best educator of Juan Antonio.

But what's interesting in this young man is his talent, his amazing ability to capture, purify, his impeccable technique, grace and elegance in holding the beautiful instrument, the way he plays so that sounds are clean and clear; how the music he writes, the tenderness sometimes and the epic get into our hearts the way they do. There's human sweetness, tolerance and acknowledgment of others' values in him; in one word: he has the modesty of a little God who's descended from the Muses to our wonderful land to enchant us... A determined man, he devotes his life to the instrument. But there's more: he's an inspired composer. He has written some works already. Due to the fact the guitar lacks the richness in works other instruments have, Juan Antonio Mercadal has devoted himself too to transcribe the works of one hundred famous composers. But, he also devotes time to practice the trumpet guided by our great Gonzalo Roig. Mercadal has, actually, devoted his life to the guitar and music in all its forms".

The musical revelation of the young Cuban guitarist greatly impressed the audience whose transcendental and thoughtful program we transcribe here:



Minuetto-------------------------- Ignacio Paderewsky.
Berceuse-------------------------- Robert Schumann.
Nocturno núm. 2----------------- Federico Chopin.
Gran jota-------------------------- Franisco Tárrega.


Mazruka---------------------------- F. Fuffaletti.
Adagio de la sonata Patética------ Ludwig van Beethoven.
Rapsodia cubana------------------ Severino López.
Ráfaga----------------------------- Joaquín Turina.


Gavotte---------------------------- Juan Sebastián Bach.
Sueño de amor------------------- Franz Liszt.
Variaciones------------------------ Fernando Sor.
Danza núm. 5---------------------- Enrique Granados.
Sonatina---------------------------- Federico Moreno Torroba.

Ultra (La Habana), núm. 74, octubre de 1942, p. 254-155.

*The author is a musical researcher and author of the Enciclopedia Musical Cubana (Encyclopedia of Cuban Music) recently launched.


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