Venezuela’s national instrument, the cuatro, is currently on display at the House of Venezuelan History (Casa de Estudio de la Historia de Venezuela). This cultural institution is a library and exhibition center set in a beautiful old colonial mansion in downtown Caracas. It is an appropriate place to feature the cuatro, which also has historical significance in Venezuela.
The four-stringed cuatro is the modern version of a renaissance-era instrument popular in Portugal and Spain. It was brought to the Caribbean in the colonial period, and became an important ingredient in folkloric music in Venezuela. In the countryside, the cuatro holds the melody in llanera ballads, which recount epic stories.
According to a description of the musical group Cuatro Trio, “the sound of the cuatro is as light and airy as the diminutive instrument itself, played with quick strumming, lightweight bursts of sound, and shifting intervals, emphasizing both rhythm and bright harmonies characteristic of Venezuelan folk music.”