Photo: Revista Musical de Venezuela
I remember my surprise when I read Alberto Calzavara’s Historia de la música en Venezuela: Período hispánico con referencias al teatro y la danza (“History of Music in Venezuela: Hispanic period with reference to theatre and dance”, 1987), published by the Pampero Foundation. I immediately looked for information on the author, and sadly came to know that he had recently died (born in Caracas in 1944, died in 1988, 44 years old). He was a violoncellist and a musicologist, with a degree in Literature from the UCV, and he taught Musical History at that university’s Arts Faculty. He was also the author of a set of publications that left no room for doubt about the importance of his work. His most relevant investigation was the one I had in my hands, since it’s the complete history of all the Venezuelan colonial music ever written.
In this essential work, Calzavara reproduces the music sheet published by newspaper The American, in Paris, on February 16, 1874, which was later reproduced in Caracas by La Opinión Nacional, on March 10. The publication clearly established that the author of the lyrics of the “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo” (Glory to the Brave People) was Andrés Bello, while the music was by Lino Gallardo.
Calzavara traced the origin of the confusion regarding the music, and found that the first person to attribute this to Juan José Landaeta without evidence was Salvador Llamozas in 1883, the year when Guzmán Blanco organized the bolivarian apotheosis motivated by the 100th anniversary of Bolívar’s birth. Up to then, nobody had doubted Lino Gallardo’s authorship, although on May 25, 1881, when Guzmán Blanco elevated the “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo” to the rank of National Anthem, the author isn’t mentioned. Perhaps this mistake sparked the speculation and the circulation of claims that made Landaeta the composer instead of Gallardo in the first half of the 20th century, which was later supported by some evidence. On the other hand, Calzavara demonstrates with documents that the song was written between April 20 and April 30, 1810, according to written accounts by Vicente Basadre and priest José Cortés de Madariaga. This is why it’s perfectly possible that it was written by Bello, who was in Caracas back then — he also wrote Resumen de la historia de Venezuela (A brief history of Venezuela) which was a part of the first book published in Venezuela: Calendario Manual, y guía universal de forasteros en Venezuela para el año de 1810 (“Calendar Handbook, and universal guide for foreigners in Venezuela for the year 1810”).
In his throne he thought / The deceit had won / Giving us cruel laws / The usurper / Our hearts / Saw through his lies / And rose in valor / Against his vile fraud.
Since 1808, Bello and some other Venezuelans opposed José Bonaparte in favor of Fernando VII’s rights, and swore fealty to the king against the French usurper. Bello himself said that “circumstances gave Venezuela the satisfaction of being one of the first countries in the new world where people spontaneously and unanimously swore their eternal hatred against the Tyrant who wanted to break such profound bonds.” By the way, the tyrant Bello’s talking about is the same mentioned in the “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo” in its first version, not the one Guzmán ended up imposing.
That first version reads: “In his throne he thought / The deceit had won / Giving us cruel laws / The usurper.” And then: “Our hearts / Saw through his lies / And rose in valor / Against his vile fraud.” These verses were scrapped, and only those that directly spoke of peninsular events originated in Bayona were left in. This operation, according to Calzavara, was entrusted by the “Illustrious American” to Eduardo Calcaño. In any case, the anthem’s original version isn’t the one we sing today. Moreover, there are verses in the current version that weren’t part of the original, so some of them were suppressed and others were rewritten.
Alberto Calzavara died in 1988, as we already said, so he couldn’t continue the research that could’ve revealed new and even more definitive documentary evidence. To date, we have more eloquent proof in favor of Gallardo’s authorship than of Landaeta’s, and the same happens in favor of Bello over Vicente Salias. Therefore, logic dictates that we attribute authorship to them both, since the evidence in their favor is stronger that the one we have for those who have been exalted as authors for a century. Besides, even though it’s hard to implement, we should try to disseminate the song’s original version, and not the one officially imposed by Guzmán Blanco.
Let’s do what Don Manuel Pérez Vila proposed in his Entry “National Anthem” in the Dictionary of Venezuelan History for Fundación Polar, while talking about Calzavara’s research: “This is serious research, which has led to an important finding, that must be analyzed by specialists on these matters to reach a definitive conclusion.” A pending issue.