Antonio Lauro (1917 - 1986)
Antonio Lauro was born in Ciudad Bolívar, 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 studied the piano and composition at the Academia de Música y Declamación, where his teachers included the distinguished composer Vicente Emilio Sojo (1877-1974). A 1932 concert by Agustín 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 Ral Borges (1888-1967), who introduced him to the traditional classical guitar repertory. In the next decade, Borges pupils would also include Rodrigo Riera, José Rafael Cisneros, and Alirio Díaz, who was responsible for exposing Lauro's works to an international audience and introducing them to the likes of Andrés 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 Trópico in 1935-43 where he sang bass and played both guitar and cuatro, Lauro 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 Ramón Delgado Palacios (1867-1902). Unfailingly melodic, alternately wistful and brilliant, and characterized by a distinctive syncopation, 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 Lauro composed dozens of works for orchestra, choir, piano and voice; many of which remain unpublished.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 Pérez Jiménez 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 Raúl 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 José Landaeta Conservatory, and was named president of the Venezueland Symphony 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 música, his country's highest artistic award.