This week we’re heading fifty years into the future and halfway across the world to meet our next featured artist: Teresa Carreño!
Teresa Carreño (full name: María Teresa Carreño García de Sena) was born on December 22, 1853 in Caracas, Venezuela.
Her family was a musical one–not only did her father play the piano in his spare time, but her grandfather was a well-known composer. Almost right away, Carreño’s family noticed her musical talents, but they decided to wait until she was six to start piano lessons. And as soon as she did, she began composing.
When Carreño was eight years old, her family moved from Venezuela to New York City. The situation in Venezuela were becoming unstable, and her family felt Carreño would have more chances to become famous in such a large city. A few months later, Carreño gave her first public performance at Irving Hall (which unfortunately no longer exists). It was a huge success and led to four repeat performances.
Thanks to her concerts, Carreño met the most famous pianist in America at the time, Louis Moreau Gottschalk. He was so impressed with her incredible piano playing that he taught her for a while and gave her a great deal of publicity. In return, Carreño named her first published piece, when she was nine, the “Gottschalk Waltz.”
Shortly after, Carreño went on tour throughout the Eastern United States and to Cuba. In the fall, she gave a private concert to American president Abraham Lincoln in the White House!
By the time she was twelve, Carreño had a solid reputation as a brilliant pianist–something many adults would be envious of. But instead of coasting on her success, she and her family moved to Paris: now it was time to conquer Europe.
And conquer Europe she did. Within two months of arriving in Paris, Carreño became a favourite of famous musicians, received lessons from some of the best teachers of her time, composed a large number of pieces, and began touring throughout Europe. But when the Franco-Prussian War began four years after she arrived, Carreño and her family moved to London.
She also started an opera career in the most sink-or-swim way possible. While she was on tour, a mezzo-soprano who was to perform the role of the Queen in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots became too sick to sing. Without a single rehearsal, Carreño took her place–and was a success!
When Carreño was twenty-one, she returned to the United States to pick up her performing career there, now as an adult and not a child prodigy. She also conducted, which was quite rare for a woman of her time.
By now, she had earned her nickname, “The Valkyrie of the Piano.” She had become famous for her passionate, energetic playing…and also for changing around musical directions in the piano pieces by different composers that were part of her concerts. It was a brave move that allowed her personality to shine through her performances–even if sometimes she annoyed composers doing it!
In 1876, Carreño launched her opera career in the more traditional way. She played the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni, by W.A. Mozart, debuting in New York City. Even if she was an opera singer only briefly, her career was considered a success all the same.
Carreño took a break from touring throughout the United States and Canada when she was thirty-one: for the first time since she was eight years old, she returned to Venezuela. Although she stayed for less than a year, she still gave concerts, composed, started an opera troupe (which unfortunately didn’t last), and helped plan the creation of a Venezuelan conservatory of music.
A few years later, it was back to Europe for Carreño. This time, she moved to Berlin and made her German debut as a guest soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. She was just as popular in Germany as she had been elsewhere, leading her to become “the leading female pianist of the period” (ANBO). She toured not only throughout Europe, but in Australia, New Zealand, South America, and the United States. She continued to compose, became a sought-after teacher, and even wrote a treatise, or long essay, called “Possibilities of Tone Color by Artistic Use of Pedals.”
After World War I broke out and later worsened, it became too dangerous for Carreño to tour. She returned to the United States to stay, and for the rest of her life, continued to tour throughout America and Cuba. Though she isn’t as well-known nowadays as she ought to be, she’s still remembered. She has a youth orchestra named after her, the most important theatre in Venezuela (and the second-largest in South America!) is called the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex, and there’s even a crater on Venus named after her!
Listen below to one of Carreño’s piano compositions, the Kleiner Walzer, dedicated to her daughter Teresita, who became a well-known pianist in her own right.
If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.
To Learn More (Sources):
Carreño, Teresa at the American National Bibliography Online site
Teresa Carreño: A Biographical Sketch by Brian Mann via the Wayback Machine
Profile of Teresa Carreño at About EducationIrving Place Theatre at Wikipedia.org
Teresa Carreño at Wikipedia.org
Teresa Carreño at Wikipedia.org (German)
Kleiner Walzer (Carreño, Teresa) at the International Music Score Library Project
Image source for young Carreño: Tamarackideafactory.com