BiographyThe contemporaries characterized one of the most prominent female pianists of the time, Teresa Carreño as a musician with a male head, male fingers and a female heart. Teresa Carreño became the first Venezuelan actress who achieved international fame. Despite the fact that Carreno was the leading female performer of her time, only brief references can be found in the modern specialized literature. Hence, at home, in Venezuela, the memory of the unique pianist is still honored.
Teresa Carreno was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 22, 1853. Her father Manuel Antonio Carreño was her first music teacher. The man was an excellent pianist, organist and composer; he served as Minister of Finance in the government of Venezuela. Most of all, he was known for his popular book on good manners and behavior in society, often called the “Textbook of Carreno”. Manuel Antonio created comfortable life conditions for his family, there were two instruments in the house: a piano and a concert grand piano. At the age of 4, Teresita was already able to play melodies and pick up an accompaniment to them by ear, although her father started to teach her music only at the age of 6 years. Somewhat later, he hired a German pianist Julius Hohenus, who taught the child to perform the works of Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, Carl Czerny and Johann Sebastian Bach. At the age of 7, she was already a student with an advanced level of piano skills, composing her own music.
In 1862, in search of the greater opportunities for a brilliant child that Venezuela could not offer, the Carreno family moved to the USA. Manuel Antonio realized that his daughter needed to continue classes under the best music teachers in order to become a professional pianist and did everything possible to fulfill this dream.
In the USA, he set a goal that one of the most famous musicians in New York, eminent educator Louis Moreau Gottschalk, should hear Teresita playing. Outstanding abilities of the girl impressed the musician deeply. It is not known for certain how many lessons Carreño took from Gottschalk; however, it was this man who became her main pianistic ideal throughout her life.
Teresa’s father was initially opposed to her performances in front of the public, but when the financial crisis hit the family, the young pianist became the only possible source of income. Carreño’s American debut took place on November 25, 1862 in Irving Hall, New York. The program included The Waltz by Gottschalk from the first opus. The Fantasy by Thalberg based the opera Mosè in Egitto by Rossini, Rondo for piano and orchestra by Johann Hummel and The Great Triumphal Fantasy by Gottschalk. The success of the concert entailed a series of other performances; followed by concerts in Boston, New Haven, Salem and other cities. After each artist’s performance, the press published many positive reviews from the leading musical critics. The unrivaled playing of Teresita enraptured the listeners. After one of the concerts, the pianist received an honorary medal from the Boston Philharmonic Society. When the pianist was ten years old, she was invited to perform at the White House in front of the USA president, Abraham Lincoln.
In 1866, at the age of 13, Carreno went on a concert tour under her father supervision. The tour began in the Salle Erard in Paris. In the capital of France, she met such famous personalities as Ferencz Liszt, Camille Saint-Saëns, Gioachino Rossini, Charles François Gounod and Hector Berlioz. Rossini even gave vocal lessons to the young actress, revealing her wonderful mezzo-soprano. The Carreno family remained in Paris for eight years. The pianist played a casting session at the Paris Conservatoire, but was not accepted: Teresa was so professionally skilled in playing piano that she was far ahead of the technical level recommended for admission.
In Paris, Carreño took piano lessons from Georges Mathis, a professor at the Paris Conservatory and a student of Chopin. It was he who cultivated Teresa’s love for Chopin's works, which later became the basis of her repertoire. The fateful acquaintance with Anton Rubinstein happened in 1868, when Carreno performed in the Hanover Square Rooms in London. Immediately after the concert, he went to the actress backstage. The acquaintance of two musicians grew into a strong and long-term friendship; Anton Rubinstein became the most important person in Theresa’s creative life along with Gottschalk. Although the pianist did not give her official lessons, he always helped her with advice concerning the technique of performing of various musical works.
1873, the actress married violinist Emile Sore and a year later she gave birth to a daughter.
In 1875, Carreno once more left for the United States on a concert tour. By that time, the marriage with Sore was rapidly decaying and by the end of the tour, the pianist broke up with him. Carreno decided to move to Boston and started performing as a vocalist. Her most successful character was Zerlina from the opera Don Giovanni by Mozart. However, Teresa realized that she did not have the same vocal control level as she had in playing piano. The proposal from Mr. Weber, the owner of the Weber piano company to become a company representative followed in 1876. Teresa accepted it and moved to New York.
In New York, she met the MacDowell family. Edward MacDowell became not only her student, but also her closest friend. He always asked her opinion and asked for advice regarding his compositions; Carreno regularly included his works in her concert programs, which contributed to spreading the composer’s fame in the United States and Europe. The popularization of MacDowell’s music was the pianist’s most important contribution to music history.
In 1876, Carreño married Italian baritone Giovanni Tagliapietra. During this period, she organized “The Carreno Concert Company” and “The Carreno-Donaldi Operatic Gem Company”. In 1885, the pianist received a personal invitation from the President of Venezuela to perform a series of concerts, and in 1886, she was invited to head an opera company in Caracas. For this project, Teresa and her husband hired artists from the USA and Europe, but instead of the expected success, the project brought only losses. In 1887, the pianist returned to New York and divorced from her husband.
At that time, Berlin was one of the most progressive cities in Europe and Carreno decided to go to Germany. There she began collaboration with the most influential impresario, Herman Wolff, who became her permanent agent until the end of her life. He helped to organize Carreño's debut performance in November 1889. In Germany, her talent captivated the audience. In subsequent years, she gave a series of brilliant concerts in Germany, Russia and other European countries.
1891, Teresa met Eugène d'Albert; Herman Wolff was his agent as well. The next year, the musicians got married, despite disproportion in age that comprised 11 years. The family moved to Coswig, Saxony, and settled in the estate called Villa Teresa. They lived there until 1894. The couple divorced in in 1895. Teresa Carreño Society is now located in this estate, the villa itself being a concert hall.
Until 1900, the pianist actively concerted in Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Great Britain and Russia. She was giving about 80 concerts per season and became the Steinway & Sons artist.
In 1901, the brother of her ex-husband, Arturo Giovanni Tagliapietra, came to Germany to work as a pianist’s secretary. A year later, they got married, despite the fact that all her friends opposed her late marriage (at that time the actress was 49 years old). Contrary to the evil tongues, they entered into the happy marriage that lasted until the death of the pianist. The following year, she recorded paper music rolls for Welte-Mignon, Duo-Art and Ampico companies.
In 1914, when the First World War began, Carreno decided to return to the United States. There Carreno took on writing the methodological work entitled “The Possibilities of Tone Color by Artistic Use of the Pedals”, which she did not finished. She had to cancel her concerts in New York due to the vision problems, which caused the ophthalmic nerve paralysis and subsequent death in 1917.
As a composer, Carreno was known for her compositions written in the salon music style that was one of the most popular trends in the late 19th century. Although she did not introduce new elements into the already existing musical language, her works were extremely melodic and met the public aesthetic demands.
The contemporaries called her the Piano Valkyrie. She possessed tremendous inner power, which she introduced to the brilliant interpretations of musical compositions. Her playing was endowed with poetry and sophistication. She was the first tier actress, whose performances every time turned to be a sensation for the public.