TERESA CARREÑO was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in December 1853 into a family of great distinction. Her grandfather had been an important composer of church music in colonial times; her great-uncle Simon Rodriguez, admirer of Rousseau and the French Revolution, had been tutor to Simon Bolivar. Teresa’s father, Manuel Antonio Carreno, ex- Minister of Finance, was also a musician. He became his 6-year-old daughter’s first piano teacher and wrote five hundred little exercises and studies for her. (He also wrote a book on good conduct for young Venezuelans, for which he would be much mocked by later generations.)Maria Teresa Carreno, known as Teresita, was a child prodigy, singing the famous aria from Bellini’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the age of two, and giving her first piano recital at the Irving Hall in New York seven years later to great critical acclaim “She has the feeling of Bellini, the energy of Verdi, the expression of Mendelssohn and the improvisation of Beethoven! She is a Liszt in petticoats!” , which, amazingly, left her unspoiled. All her life she would have a great sense of fun; from early childhood she enjoyed making up stories at the piano, illustrating them with music until they developed into little operas, and singing them to her dolls.
Later she would study the piano under Gottschalk and Rubinstein, tour in the United States and achieve spectacular success in Berlin in the l880’s with great romantic works by Beethoven and Grieg.“The lioness of the keyboard” said the Allgemeine Musikzeitung. “Comparing Frau Carreno with the average pianiste, she stands out as a Brunnhilde against one of the flappers of our day!”
Carreno would make her home in Germany, where she enjoyed long walks in the Bavarian Alps, in the pouring rain. She became famous all over Europe both as concert pianist and for her invigorating personality. She married four times, each union a tempestuous one. “One cannot marry too late or be divorced too soon!”
Her third husband, pianist Eugéne d’Albert, had been the first Queen’s Scholar at the National Training School for Music, London, later renamed the Royal College of Music, from 1876 – 1881. In l893 Carreno appeared in Berlin conducted by D’Albert in his own 2nd concerto. “Frau Carreno yesterday played for the 1st time the 2nd concerto of her 3rd husband in the 4th Philharmonic Concert.”
Carreño later became a teacher, much loved in Berlin for the kindness with which she treated her students. “You should never be afraid to play before an artist. The artist listens for that which is well done; the person who knows nothing listens for the faults!” She also taught in the Juillard School in New York, where she died in 1917.
A wonderful partnership, with that scorching repertoire from a really romantic pianist, Clara Rodriguez balanced by Karin Fernald’s cool approach: narrating the life so that we not only get the facts, but the feeling that she has been round the back and seen the funny side of the storm. Fresh air blowing through the hothouse.
Through a mixture of words and music these two extremely talented women lead us to discover Carreno’s fascinating life story. My attention was grabbed from the moment they came on stage.
the Venezuelan Cultural Centre and Burgh House, Hampstead.