Today, on Cinco de Mayo, you might get to hear the Mexican national anthem. And your heart may well beat with pride.
And you may wonder, if you are not Mexican, why is that? Did I have one margarita too many?
The answer is simpler -- and stranger. The Mexican national anthem was written by a man who lived in Buffalo for 40 years. A man who was buried in Forest Lawn, but who now lies in a place of honor in Mexico's Rotundo de los Hombres Illustros, or Rotunda of Illustrious Persons.
His name was Jaime Nuno.
Nuno's saga is epic, like "Ragtime" or "Dr. Zhivago." People from all over the world played a part in it. So did Buffalo's German singing societies, and the Pan-American Exposition of 1901.
He is the subject of a Spanish-language book by Cristian Canton-Ferrer and Raquel Tovar Abad. Nuno's story also interests Jean Dickson, a musicologist and librarian at UB's Lockwood Library.
Dickson is fascinated with the cross-pollination that took place among musicians in the 19th century. Poor people listened to opera, and bought tickets for Paderewski and Caruso. Rich people enjoyed vaudeville acts and circuses.
"Some of the more adventurous and daring musicians took the risk of traveling to the New World as cultural pioneers and helped to form new forms of music, never heard before."
>Out of Catalonia
Nuno was one of those pioneers. He could have been describing his own life when he wrote, at the top of his score for the Mexican anthem: "Majestically -- like a march, with spirit."
He was born in 1824 in the Catalonia region of Spain. Trained in the Catholic Church as a singer, organist and choir director, he studied in Naples, Italy -- then came home to oversee military bands in the town of Terrassa, near Barcelona (also the hometown of Canton-Ferrer, his biographer).
Canton-Ferrer, who is researching a book in Cambodia, was reached in Bangkok via e-mail.
He said that in Terrassa, Nuno met his wife, Dolores, and befriended the mayor of Barcelona, whose brother was the governor of Cuba.
That's how Nuno wound up in Cuba, says Canton-Ferrer, "where he was responsible for the introduction of brass instruments into the military bands."
In Cuba, Nuno met Mexican President Santa Anna (of Alamo fame), who invited him to his country, where he also, briefly, ran military bands in the 1850s.
"He didn't get very far, because Santa Anna was overthrown," Dickson explains.
But in that time, he entered a contest Santa Anna held to write music for a Mexican national anthem. And he won. (The music accompanies lyrics by Francisco Gonzalez Bocanegra.)
Nuno's triumph was short-lived. In 1855, after Santa Anna fled to Cuba, he began traveling throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. (His colorful memoirs stated that bandits robbed him en route to Veracruz.)
A beautiful Polish contralto, Felicita Vestvali, helped him get to the United States in 1857, Dickson says. "Nuno seems to have paid her off by working as her accompanist in New York."
>Gateway to Buffalo
In New York City, Nuno worked with opera companies, and conducted the concerts of piano virtuoso Sigismund Thalberg. He returned to Cuba to lead an orchestra, but 1862 -- the year of the battle that Cinco de Mayo commemorates -- he was in New York working with an Italian opera troupe.
In 1869, at 45, he decided it was time to settle down. "Conducting orchestras and opera companies was badly paid and was a demanding job," Canton-Ferrer explains.
His friend and music publisher Gustav Schirmer suggested Buffalo, the biographer says, "a city with a high demand of music teachers. Buffalo was a rapidly growing city with a strong music tradition."
At the time Buffalo's "high end" musical life and education were run and financed by Germans and German-Americans, according to Dickson. The Spanish Nuno found himself working with the Orpheus Singers and the Liedertafel.
His family still has a certificate from historic First Presbyterian Church, recognizing his musical services.
He also ran a male choir for the city's Protestant elite -- an ensemble nicknamed "the Nunos." Dickson points to a story in Every Saturday, a weekly publication of Buffalo society doings, in which the old guard, feeling besieged by tides of immigrants, joked that "the Nunos" were its only decent music group.
How did Buffalo affect Nuno? The Buffalo Evening News, in a 1901 story, stated that Nuno's music was enriched with "American vigour" and "German grandiosity."
"His composing style was sort of Italian in his early compositions, but there is a change when he settles down in Buffalo," Canton-Ferrer says.
Overseas, Nuno's first wife had died, and in 1874, he married Catherine Remington, a voice student and society woman 30 years his junior. They lived on Delaware Avenue and had two children.
"For a while they were doing well," Dickson says, but then Nuno's fortunes slipped. By 1901, he had a studio on Delaware, but he and his family were in a boardinghouse.
>Anthem on Delaware
Then came the Pan-American Exposition of 1901. For the Mexican exhibit, organizers imported a Mexican military band.
And that band "rediscovered" Nuno.
"The Mexican military band heard Nuno was living in Buffalo somewhere on Delaware Avenue. But they didn't have the address," Dickson says. "So [the band] marched up and down Delaware playing the Mexican anthem -- until he finally stuck his head out."
The white-haired, handsome Nuno bragged in an interview that the Mexicans expected to find "a decrepit, feeble, doubled-up old wreck of a man."
"There was disappointment when I was found to have my faculties and much of my ancient vigor, along with a ruddy face and an alert carriage," he said. "I am only 76, and that is no reason for showing signs of old age."
The next four years, though, must have been tough on the dapper elderly gentleman, because at 80, Nuno died. He was buried in Forest Lawn.
But he was not forgotten.
In 1954, when the Mexican government built its Rotunda, Nuno's body was taken from Forest Lawn and brought to rest at its present exalted location.
Surely Nuno, whose life embraced so many cultures, would be happy to be remembered in America as well as in Mexico. He said as much, himself.
Interviewed by The Buffalo Evening News near the end of his life, he said, "I feel all the richer for having two countries to love instead of one."