The Manuel Areu Project consists of bringing to light the original music and theater works of composer, musician, actor, and entrepreneur Manuel Areu. Areu was born in Madrid, Spain in 1845 and died in Mexico City in 1942. Although this collection was found in 1952, there were no efforts to recover and perform Areu’s original music. However, in 2012, under the guidance of UNM Honors College Faculty, University of New Mexico Honors College students began to research Areu’s life and work using this unprecedented collection of music scores and manuscripts. Areu’s artistic life spanned Spain, Cuba, Mexico, New Orleans, and Los Angeles as well as some cities in Texas and Arizona.
The value of Areu’s work is not only the quality and the merits of the work itself, but also Areu himself as an active artist responding to the times and places in which he lived. The fact that the collection has many unpublished scores creates a unique opportunity for students and performers to be part of a research project that reveals not only new music, but also a new aspect of musical entertainment in the Hispanic communities in the Southwest at the beginning of the 20th century and continuing into their legacy today. Areu’s work in zarzuela, vaudeville, and entertainment, including his unique “vistas habladas” of silent movies, also left a legacy in Cuba and Mexico.
José Luis Temes, a music conductor specializing in zarzuela, mentioned this collection in his book, “El Siglo de la Zarzuela:”
“Scholars have found no evidence of the presence of zarzuela in the east coast of the United States at least until 1871, when the pioneer company of Manuel Areu arrived in New Orleans. From there he organized expeditions to several cities in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. He teamed with brothers Mauri (of Valencian origin, although established in Cuba), and they took some repertoire to Florida and elsewhere in the United States. In his amazing work as an entrepreneur in America, Areu came to have his own collection of e zarzuelas, both Spanish and American, which recently appeared in the city of Jerome (Arizona).
Inspired by the political and social events of the places where he lived and worked, Manuel Areu composed zarzuelas and dramas. The musical works composed by him are transcribed to be performed, and the manuscripts about his life and work are researched and analyzed within the cultural, political, and social contexts in which they were created and performed. The analysis brings to the picture important aspects of the development of performing arts in crucial historical moments such as the Cuban revolutionary war of independence; the Mexican revolution; the struggles of mining workers in Northern Mexico and Arizona; the beginning of cinema in Hollywood; the musical and historical connections of New Orleans and Cuba; the insights of history of entertainment in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands; and also the beginning of the conflicted relations between these two countries.
The “Manuel Areu Collection of Nineteenth-Century Zarzuelas, 1849-1932” is a set of musical scores and personal documents that belonged to Manuel Areu, a composer, violinist, actor, and impresario. Manuel Areu was born in Spain and traveled and worked as the director of his family company in Cuba, Mexico, and southwestern United States.
Looking for objects to use in his sculpture work, in 1952 artist Frederick Sommers discovered a collection of musical and drama manuscripts in a garbage dump in the town of Jerome, Arizona. The majority of these scores were handwritten orchestral parts and scores. The collection also included plays, playbills, and personal papers and letters. Further investigation revealed musical compositions between 1849 and 1889, among them 131 zarzuelas (Spanish operas) and miscellaneous music. Of the zarzuelas present in this group, about 100 originated in Spain, and a small number in Cuba and Mexico. About eighty of the musical works include conductors’ scores and/or piano-vocal scores. Continue reading “From the city dump to the concert halls: The journey of the Manuel Areu Collection.”