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ClassicsOnline Home » LAURO: Guitar Music, Vol. 2 - Sonata / 4 Estudios / Suite
In 1938, Antonio Lauro became the first Venezuelan to complete formal studies in classical guitar. Although it was through the waltz that Lauro found his way as a composer (his Venezuelan Waltzes are available on Naxos 8.554348), his output includes other rhythms and forms that span his country’s history and geography. The main work on this recording, the Sonata, written after Lauro’s imprisonment in 1951-52 for opposition to the ruling military junta, combines elements rooted in the musical heritage of Venezuela with western scholarly references.
By David Denton
Antonio Lauro (1917-1986)
Guitar Music • 2
When Andrés Segovia first recorded in 1955 the waltz eventually named Natalia, Antonio Lauro was credited on the sleeve note as an "Argentinian composer". In fact, it hardly mattered whether his origins were Venezuelan, Ecuadorian or Argentinian. Until then this was his only composition performed outside Venezuela and the only one ever adopted by Segovia into his repertoire. Lauro thus joined Heitor Villa-Lobos and Manuel M. Ponce among the fortunate few Latin-Americans to be honoured and recorded by the great Andalusian master, alongside Spanish composers of the narrowly named canon of the 'Spanish guitar'. But over the next decade Lauro's works achieved international fame through the talents of a fellow Venezuelan – the guitarist, Alirio Díaz. A permanent interest was thus forged around the composer at the time he reached maturity of conceptual and artistic synthesis.
Antonio Lauro was born on 3 August 1917, in Ciudad Bolívar, a city on the banks of the Orinoco River. He was the son of Italian immigrants, his father being a prosperous barber and amateur musician. Orphaned before the age of six, the boy was forced to move to Caracas. There, against the wishes of his family, he began a musical education studying piano under the tutelage of Salvador Narciso Llamozas, a master of the first nationalist generation and a great composer of waltzes. However, the influence of the Paraguayan guitarist, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, drove him to study the instrument under Raúl Borges who had founded the guitar department at the National Conservatory in Caracas, one of the first of its kind in the world.
In 1938, Lauro became the first Venezuelan to complete formal studies in classical guitar, while at the same time cultivating a career as a popular musician, playing guitar accompaniment at radio stations and forming a trio for voice and guitars with which he toured South America. Lauro travelled as far as Chile, where he remained for nearly a year. Upon returning home, he put aside his guitar to study composition under Vicente Emilio Sojo, the foremost master of the Venezuelan nationalist movement.
In a kind of crusade to revitalize Venezuelan music, Lauro joined the Orquesta Sinfónica Venezuela, where he played percussion, and also participated in the Orfeón Lamas, the first established choir in the country to become well known to date. Vocal music became a passion to which Lauro was devoted throughout his life. He was a soloist in numerous choral-symphonic productions, directed choirs, and wrote many compositions for voice, as well as a significant range of works for voice and guitar. Elements of Lauro's vocal music can be discerned in solo guitar pieces such as Crepuscular and Oriente.
In the second phase of his career, 1944 to 1956, Lauro adopted an aesthetic approach that brought together his experiences as both popular musician and scholar. His guitar compositions were now directed towards uniting Venezuelan popular music with complex forms of the European tradition. His works also reflected his fascination with early repertoire for the instrument, as evidenced by his fugues and, in particular, his Pavana al estilo de los vihuelistas (its original title, 1948), a tribute to Luis Milán. Pavana was awarded the Concurso Anual de Música, the most prestigious music prize in Venezuela, and was dedicated to his friend Manuel Enrique Pérez Díaz, who accompanied Lauro on travels through South America, and was also a student of Raúl Borges of Venezuela and María Luisa Anido of Argentina.
Remarkably, this was the only period in Lauro's career when he composed for instruments other than guitar, producing works such as Suite venezolana for piano, Marisela for solo harp, as well as music for chamber and symphonic orchestras. It was with the guitar, however, that he reached the peak of his creative achievements. After imprisonment in 1951 for his opposition to the dictatorship ruling Venezuela, Lauro returned to the guitar to shape the main body of his repertoire: the Suite venezolana and Sonata, to which he would later add his Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra. These pieces share examples of polyphonic writing and exploit the diverse possibilities offered by the guitar's fingerboard.
Following this, Lauro pursued three compositional directions. The first involved music of a popular, traditional character, including another collection of Venezuelan waltzes, tonal in vocabulary and structured in contrasting sections. The second concerned chromatic works that illustrated his 'personal interests' with a return to elements evident in Sonata and Suite venezolana. Finally, he developed certain ideas implicit in the fugues and the Pavana to produce, among other things, the Estudios en imitaciones, exploring the guitar's contrapuntal elements and introducing pedagogic elements rarely present in previous works. Thereafter, he reached new heights in his already distinguished career with Pavana y fantasía para guitarra y clavecín (dedicated to John Williams, 1977), and Suite en homenaje a John Duarte (1981).
Thus Lauro transcended, once and for all, the role of a mere composer of folkloric waltzes (though this opinion is still held in some circles today). If Sonata and the Guitar Concerto represent a blending of cultures (national music reinterpreted from the perspective of western scholarly references), Pavana y fantasía and his Homenaje a Duarte certainly do not. With the latter two, Lauro's approach is self-referential. He identifies the common origin in the traditions he had so completely absorbed, combining elements rooted in the musical heritage of Venezuela with those deriving from the ancestry of the guitar repertoire to forge a new language. These works are uniquely characteristic of the guitar's Latin American repertoire and one of the supreme creations for the instrument in the 20th century.
In the end (perhaps through the effects of the illness that would end his life), Lauro returned to the influence of Maestro Sojo and to the variety of Venezuelan music, composing within popular structures previously unexplored in pursuit of a symbolic sense of national unity. Although it was through the waltz that Lauro had found his way as a composer, his output includes other rhythms and forms spanning the country's history and geography such as lullabies (Ana Florencia), romantic ballads, boleras (pieces styled in the now vanished 19th century form), gaitas of Maracaibo, Andean bambucos (Virgilio), registros (free form preludes of the popular guitar) and dances such as the Caracas merengues and the joropos (Seis por derecho from the plains and Pasaje aragüeño, from the country's central region). During his final years Lauro added two small pieces, Romanza and Nocturno, perhaps indicating new paths he intended to follow. Finally, in Cueca chilena, Lauro recalled that time forty years earlier when he had travelled across the continent, thus completing the circle of his life and expressing a broader sense of belonging, not only to Venezuela, but to Latin America as a whole.
Lauro died in Caracas on 18 April 1986, having been presented with the prestigious National Music Award the year before and honoured in many countries, beginning with Cuba in 1978 and continuing through Europe. Although some of his guitar pieces have not yet been published, his fame is unquestionably international. Guitarists worldwide have played and recorded his works for over four decades. On this recording, through his instrumental mastery, Victor Villadangos offers a truly Latin American performance, establishing beyond doubt that Lauro, as a composer for the guitar, ultimately achieved not only national stature but also a significance representative of an entire continent.
English version by Jorge Gil and Graham Wade
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