Antonio Lauro was born in Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela. His father, an Italian immigrant, was a barber who could sing and play the guitar so he taught his son what he could, but died when Antonio was still a child. After the family moved to Caracas, Lauro pursued formal musical study (piano, composition) at the Academia de Música y Declamación, where the distinguished composer Vicente Emilio Sojo (1887–1974) was one of his teachers. A 1932 concert performed in Caracas by Agustín Barrios, the legendary Paraguayan guitarist and composer, so much impressed the young Lauro (already an accomplished folk guitarist) that he was persuaded to abandon piano and violin in favor of the guitar. From 1933, Lauro studied with Raúl Borges (1888–1967), and was introduced to the traditional classical guitar repertoire. In the next decade, Borges' pupils would also include Rodrigo Riera, José Rafael Cisneros, and Alirio Díaz. These colleagues, especially Díaz, were later responsible for unveiling Lauro's works to an astonished international audience, introducing these unheard works 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 1935-1943 (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 venezolanos (Venezuelan waltzes) 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 (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, Bartók or Granados had elevated to the category of national art in Europe.
A concert whose programme consisted entirely of such valses venezolanos (Venezuelan waltzes) by the distinguished Venezuelan pianist Evencio Castellanos (1914–1984) convinced Lauro that the guitar, too, should have comparable pieces in its repertory. Among his first efforts in this genre were the pieces later known as Tatiana, Andreína, and Natalia, composed sometime between 1938 and 1940; their instant 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 occasionally 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 1951-1952, 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 freshly formed “Trio Raúl Borges”. In the following 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 everywhere. Lauro was appointed professor of guitar at several distinguished schools including the Juan José Landaeta Conservatory, and was named president of the Venezuela 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 at Caracas in 1986, he was presented with the Premio Nacional de Música, his country's highest artistic award.
Seis por derecho: a joropo, subtitled "al estilo del arpa venezolana" ("in the style of the Venezuelan harp"), is an extraordinary 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 ¾. The title of this work comes from the llaneros (inhabitants of the Venezuelan llanos or plains) who approved of its insistent rhythm (6/8 = seis), thus giving it the right (derecho) to be so named. The next four pieces were classic valses venezolanos (Venezuelan waltzes): María Carolina (file info...), unpublished until 1983, named after the composer's first granddaughter. El Marabino refers to a native of Maracaibo (a more common term is maracucho), an important city where Lauro himself lived for a time. Lauro once told his pupil Luis Zea that he had named a new composition María Luisa after his wife, and that the piece was as difficult as she was – a comment which later caused Señora 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 Bolívar, Lauro's birthplace.
Lauro wrote the impressive Suite Venezolana, consisting of Registro (Prelude), Danza Negra, Canción, 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 a very difficult piece, frequently selected as the main or final challenge in international guitar contests, demanding not only a mature technique but a solid command of intricate Venezuelan rhythms as well. It is mainly an Afro-Venezuelan dance which quotes a Venezuelan folksong named San Pedro; another popular tune, La Tumba, is quoted in both of the last two movements, a typical canción de serenata (serenade song) and a vals. In 1971 Lauro wrote the waltz El Niño, dedicated to his eldest son, Leonardo.
The first three of the Cuatro Valses Venezolanos (Four Venezuelan Waltzes) were composed in Ecuador in 1938-40 while Lauro was touring there with the Trio Cantores del Trópico; years later, after the pieces had been published, Lauro decided to name them after his niece Tatiana, her sister Andreína, 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 Andrés Segovia), or as Vals No.3 (the title under which it was published in 1963). The fourth waltz, Yacambú, is in rondo form having curious chromaticisms and unexpected harmonies; it was named after a picturesque mountainous area of western Venezuela.
El Negrito (referring to Lauro's youngest son Luis Augusto) 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 Tríptico consists of three pieces in E minor which the composer collected together to comply with a request from Andrés Segovia. The first of these, Armida, is a contemplative song named after the composer's sister. Madrugada ("before dawn") is an appoggiatura study inspired by one of Sojo's few original works for guitar. 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 canción 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 Sentada, but the second half is original to Lauro, who found the little tune too brief to be developed successfully. Carora became a favorite of guitar virtuoso Alirio Díaz; when Lauro invited him to title the piece, Díaz chose the name of his home town (and that of his friend and fellow guitarist, Rodrigo Riera), a city in Lara state, in western Venezuela.
The works of Antonio Lauro have long been very popular with guitarists worldwide, yet there have been few recordings devoted exclusively to him. However, several recordings by John Williams and David Russell, have set Lauro's fame in the honorific place he deserves. John Williams is quoted as having justly referred to Antonio Lauro as being the "Strauss of the guitar". Another recording worth mentioning, "A Tribute to Antonio Lauro" by Thomas Cronin (guitarist), recorded initially for Irish National Radio on the RTE label, gained great appeal with Venezuelans worldwide.
Elliot, Paul Frank: The Venezuelan Waltzes of Antonio Lauro - Thesis/dissertation/manuscript (1994). OCLC: 35822159
(Spanish) Alejandro Bruzual: Antonio Lauro - Publisher: FUNDARTE, Caracas (1998) ISBN 980-253-338-6 OCLC: 43905994
(Spanish) Alejandro Bruzual: Antonio Lauro, Un Músico Total: Su Época, Su Vida y Su Obra - Ensayo Biografico - Publ. CVG Siderúrgica del Orinoco, Caracas (1995). OCLC: 43468475
Daniel Oliver Smith: Notes on graduate guitar recital 5/91 - Thesis/dissertation/manuscript (1991). OCLC: 25978521