La Marcha de San Lorenzo or St. Lawrence’s March
(With thanks to Dr. John Emery and Ian Gall)

It is quite common in Argentina for one to hear the beloved Marcha de San Lorenzo, be it on the radio on a National Holiday or sung by schoolchildren back from school when not listening to it being played by a military band. Its music is definitely martial, even heroic and epic, boisterous and catchy, raising patriotic feelings in those who hear it.

If someone were to ask us what we know about this March, we would readily say the following, beliefs which I am sure the reader would share:
  1. It must have been composed by an illustrious Argentine musician, surely of patrician stock.
  2. It must have been written as homage to the great General San Martín.
  3. The music and the words -celebrating the San Lorenzo battle- were written at the same time.
  4. The composition was commissioned by the Argentine Government.
  5. As years went by, the author must have enjoyed both distinction and recognition for his patriotic composition.
  6. It must only be used in Argentina, with the aim of celebrating San Martin’s heroic campaign. 

This sequence of “truths” would safely describe what most of us think or know about this beautiful military march.

It is far from the truth, and we would be completely wrong!

The author, Cayetano Alberto Silva, was Uruguayan, born on August 7th 1868, son of Natalia Silva, a slave belonging to the family of that surname. He studied music, joined a Band in Montevideo, and in 1889 travelled to Buenos Aires, where he worked for a time at the
Teatro Colón.

He later went to Rosario, where he was named Director of the 7th Infantry Regiment’s Band. In 1898 he moved to Venado Tuerto with his family, as he was appointed by the local Italian Society to teach music and to begin a Lyric Centre: it was there that he created “Rondalla” which was played and acted out during the Carnival of the year 1900.

He wrote the music for his compatriot and friend Florencio Sanchez’s plays “Canillita” and “Cédulas de San Juan”, as well as other military marches: “Curupaytí”, “San Genaro”, “Anglo-Boers”, “Río Negro”, “22 de Julio” and “Tuyutí”.

The musical score of what we now know as the San Lorenzo March, composed by Silva, was dedicated to Colonel Pablo Ricchieri, at that time Minister of War, and architect of the modernization of the Argentine Army. The Minister was very grateful for this homage, but requested that he change the name to “Combate de San Lorenzo”, San Lorenzo being the name of the village where Ricchieri was born, and the site of San Martín’s first battle against the Spanish Army on Argentine soil in 1813. 

Combat scene at San Lorenzo – 1813

It was performed for the first time in 1902 – without lyrics - close to the Convent of San Lorenzo where the battle was fought, and was declared the Argentine Army’s Official March on that day. Two days later, on occasion of the inauguration of the monument to San Martin in Santa Fe, it was played again in the presence of President Julio A. Roca, and of Ricchieri himself.

In 1907, his friend and Venado Tuerto neighbor Carlos Javier Benelli wrote the words to the March, which would later be adapted for use in schools. Years later, in a state of poverty, Silva sold the rights to the March to an editor in Buenos Aires, for the insignificant sum of $ 50.-

The March became world famous, and is considered in Europe to be one of the five best military march scores ever written. It has been present on various fundamental occasions throughout history: 

  • The British government requested -and were granted permission from the Argentine authorities for it to be played during King George V‘s coronation in 1911.
  • It was played during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953.
  • It is played regularly during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace; this was only briefly interrupted during the war in the South Atlantic.
  • It has been incorporated into the repertoires of Military bands in Uruguay, Brazil and Poland – amongst others.
  • It has been used as incidental music in several films (as in “Saving Private Ryan” for example.)
  • In pre-WWII years, the Argentine Army, “gave” the March to the German Army as a token of friendship, and in return received the March called “Alten Kammeraden” (“Old Comrades”).
  • Hitler´s Army entered Paris through the Arc de Triomphe to the music of the Marcha de San Lorenzo.
  • Making amends, General Dwight Eisenhower’s allied liberation army marched into Paris to the same music.

Cayetano Silva was also employed by the Police Band. At the age of 52, he died in Rosario in 1920 of serious health problems. As he was black, the Santa Fe Police Force denied his burial in the Police Pantheon, and he was buried in an unmarked grave.

It was not until 1997 that his mortal remains were transferred to Venado Tuerto’s Municipal Cemetery, and the composer’s home in Venado Tuerto now houses a Museum, a Historical Archive and the Municipal Band, all of which bear his name.