Antonio Lauro (1917-1986) was born in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela. His father was a barber who sang and played the guitar, but he died when Antonio was five years old, and the family moved to Caracas. Antonio began traditional musical studies (piano, composition) at the Academia de M�sica y Declamaci�n, where his teachers included the distinguished composer Vicente Emilio Sojo (1887-1974). A 1932 concert by Agust�n Barrios, the legendary Paraguayan guitarist and composer, convinced the young Lauro (already an accomplished folk guitarist) to abandon piano and violin and concentrate upon the guitar. From 1933, he studied with Ra�l Borges (1888-1967), who introduced him to the traditional classical guitar repertory. In the next decade, Borges' pupils would also include Rodrigo Riera, Jos� Rafael Cisneros, and Alirio D�az, who was responsible for exposing Lauro's works to an international audience and introducing them to the likes of Andr�s Segovia and John Williams.
Like many South Americans of his generation, Lauro was a fervent cultural nationalist, determined to rescue and celebrate his nation's musical heritage. As a member of the Trio Cantores del Tr�pico in 1935-43 (Lauro sang bass and played both guitar and cuatro), he toured nearby countries to introduce them to Venezuelan music. Lauro was particularly attracted to the myriad colonial parlour valses created in the previous century by accomplished national composers such as Ram�n Delgado Palacios (1867-1902). Unfailingly melodic, alternately wistful and brilliant, and characterized by a distinctive syncopation (created by a hemiola in which two measures of 3/4 become a single measure of 3/2), such music was precisely the sort of folkloric raw material which the likes of Smetana or Granados had elevated to national art in Europe. A programme of such valses by the distinguished Venezuelan pianist Evencio Castellanos (1914-1984) convinced Lauro that the guitar, too, should have such pieces in its repertory. Among his first efforts in this genre were the pieces later known as Tatiana, Andreina, and Natalia, composed sometime between 1938 and 1940; their popularity inspired still others. In addition to his guitar pieces, Lauro composed dozens of works for orchestra, choir, piano and voice; many of which remain unpublished. He sometimes experimented with modern compositional techniques, but most of his guitar music remains essentially on the Calle real or "main street," an expression used by musicians of Lauro's generation to refer to a straight and direct route, without distracting harmonic detours.
In 1951-2, the military junta of General Marcos P�rez Jim�nez imprisoned Lauro for his principled belief in democracy. Lauro later shrugged off the experience, telling his friends that prison was a normal part of life for the Venezuelan man of his generation. He had continued composing even in prison, and after his release immediately returned to performing with a pioneering professional classical guitar trio, the Trio Ra�l Borges. In the next decades Lauro's compositions were published, recorded, and performed throughout the world, and his contributions to his nation's musical life were recognized and acknowledged. Lauro was appointed professor of guitar at several distinguished schools including the Juan Jos� Landaeta Conservatory, and was named president of the Venezuelan Symphonic Orchestra. In spite of his modest insistence that he was a composer rather than a performer, he was persuaded by his friends to embark upon a solo concert tour which began in Venezuela and culminated in a triumphant 1980 performance at London's Wigmore Hall Shortly before his death in 1986, he was presented with the Premio nacional de musica, his country's highest artistic award.
Seis por derecho: Joropo, subtitled al estilo del arpa venezolana, is an extraordinarily successful version of this energetic regional dance. Like the vals venezolano, the joropo makes extensive use of a hemiola, in this case an alternation of 6/8 and �. The title of this work comes from the laneros (inhabitants of the Venezuelan plains) who approved of its insistent rhythm (6/8 = seis), thus giving it the right (derecho) to be so named. The next four pieces recorded here are classic valses venezolanos: Mar�a Carolina, unpublished until 1983, was originally entitled Iliana, but was renamed by the composer after one of his nieces. El Marabino (a more common term is maracucho) refers to a native of Maracaibo, where Lauro himself lived for a time. Lauro once told his pupil Luis Zea that he had named Maria Luisa after his wife, and that the piece was as difficult as she was � a comment which later caused Se�ora Lauro to burst into laughter. In fact, it is a very romantic work, the second section of which was inspired by Chopin's Waltz in A flat, Op. 69, No. 1. Angostura is the ancient name for Ciudad Bol�var, Lauro's birthplace.
Adi�s a Ocumare is a composition by �ngel Mar�a Mandaeta which was arranged for guitar by Lauro and included in a set of Three Venezuelan Pieces published in 1984. Also included in this set was Lauro's arrangement of Papel�n, a folk-song from his native Ciudad Bol�var. Nelly (dedicated to Lauro's friend Nelly de Afanador) is a gaita, a dance similar to the joropo.
Lauro wrote his Suite venezoluna, consisting of Registro (Preludio), Danza negra, Canci�n, and Vals during his imprisonment in 1951-52. The curiously named first movement, Registro, refers to the sort of improvising (registrar) a musician might do to warm up his hands or to explore a new or unfamiliar instrument; it is therefore equivalent to the Italian term ricercare as it was used originally used in the Renaissance. Lauro used the identical title for the first movement of his Suite para piano. The Danza negra is an Afro-�Venezuelan dance which quotes a Venezuelan folksong San Pedro; another popular tune, La Tumba, is quoted in both of the last two movements, a typical canci�n de serenata and a vals. Lauro wrote the waltz El ni�o in 1971 and dedicated it to his eldest son, Leonardo.
The first three of the 4 Valses venezolanos were composed in Ecuador in 1938-40 while Lauro was touring there with the Trio Cantores del Tr�pico; years later, after the pieces had been published, Lauro decided to name them after his niece Tatiana, her sister Andreina, and his own daughter Natalia, respectively. The last is by far Lauro's most famous work, commonly known as Vals criollo (the title under which it was recorded by Segovia), or as Vals No. 3 (the title under which it was published in 1963). The fourth waltz, Yacamh�, is in rondo form with curious chromaticisms and unexpected harmonies; it was named for a picturesque mountainous area of western Venezuela.
Et Negrito (referring to Lauro's youngest son Luis Augusta) and La gatica (the kitten, a nickname for his wife) were published together in 1984; they were intended to be played as a pair Lauro's Tr�ptico consists of three pieces in E minor which the composer collected together to comply with a request from Andr�s Segovia. The first of these, Armida, is a contemplative canci�n named after the composer's sister. Madrugada (before dawn) is an appoggiatura study inspired by one of Soja's few original works for guitar, Endecha Lauro composed this piece in 1974, shortly after the death of his beloved maestro. La Negra was the nickname of Lauro's niece Armida, the daughter of his sister of the same name; this little waltz was composed in August, 1976.
Lauro's Variaciones sobre una canci�n infantil [venezolana] carries the dedication "Homage to the guitarists of the XIX Century;" that is, to Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi, and the others of their generation who loved the theme and variations form. The first half of the melody is the children's song Palomita sentadita� but the second half is original to Lauro, who found the little tune too brief to be developed successfully. Zulay was composed by Lauro's friend Jos� Rafael Cisneros (b. 1915), still another Venezuelan who had been attracted to the guitar by Barrios' famous 1932 concerts. Cisneros met Lauro in Caracas in 1940, and, like Riera, became a disciple of Barges; in 1952 he performed with Lauro in the Trio Ra�l Barges. Zulay was Cisneros' first composition. Lacking formal musical training, he entrusted it to Lauro who revised and edited it for publication. Carora became a favourite vals of guitar virtuoso Alirio D�az; when Lauro invited him to title the piece, D�az chose the name of his home town (and that of his friend Rodrigo Riera), a city in western Venezuela.
Richard M. Long
ReviewsThe works of Antonio Lauro have long been popular with guitarists, yet there have been few recordings devoted exclusively to him. The landmark recording was David Russell's 1980 LP. Now, 20 years later, comes another masterly recording by Adam Holzman: in may ways it raises the benchmark still further. - Douglas Back, American Record Guide, August 2000