Carreño, Teresa (1853–1917)

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Carreño, Teresa (1853–1917)

Most famous woman pianist of the late 19th century, who also sang operatic roles, conducted an orchestra, and introduced the music of Edward MacDowell and Edvard Grieg to audiences throughout Europe and the Americas. Name variations: Teresa Carreno. Pronunciation: Kah-RAIN-Yo. Born Maria Teresa Carreño in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 22, 1853; died in New York City on June 12, 1917; daughter of Manuel Antonio Carreño (a pianist and Venezuelan minister of finance); married Émile Sauret, in 1872; married Giovanni Tagliapietra, in 1875; married Eugen d'Albert, in 1895; married Arturo Tagliapietra,

in 1902; children: (first marriage) two, including Emelita Sauret Tauscher; (second marriage) three, including Teresita Carreño Tagliapietra (a pianist) and Giovanni Tagliapietra, Jr. (a baritone singer); (third marriage) Herta and Eugenia.

Gave first piano concert at age nine, New York City, followed by a performance tour of Cuba (1862); performed solo with the Boston Philharmonic (1863); performed at the White House for President Abraham Lincoln (1863); taught Edward MacDowell, the American composer (1872); began operatic career (1872); appeared at first Telephone Concert (April 2, 1877); composed Hymn for Bolivar (1883); established as one of Europe's greatest pianists with a series of concerts in Berlin (1889); gave second performance at the White House, for President Woodrow Wilson (1916). Telefunken issued 25 LPs from piano rolls, featuring early performers including Carreño (1961), re-released on CD (1990s).

An 1862 portrait of the child prodigy featured on the sheet music of her opus 1, "Gottschalk Waltz," reveals a small dark-eyed girl sitting pensively at a Chickering piano, her dress gleaming with medals recently awarded her in Boston. Large audiences were turning out to hear nine-year-old Teresa Carreño, who had made her concert debut in New York that same year. Three years earlier, at age six, she had arrived in the United States from Venezuela with her family, following her father's loss of his position as minister of finance during a period of political upheaval. Now, thanks to the gifted child, the family was restored to prosperity.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 22, 1853, Teresa Carreño had spent her earliest years in an atmosphere of culture and affluence. Her mother was a niece of the country's great national hero, Simon Bolivar, and her grandfather was a recognized composer. Her father, Manuel Antonio Carreño, was a pianist as well as the Venezuelan minister of finance, and when Teresa showed a gift for playing the piano at an astonishingly early age, he was the one who began to guide her progress.

After the family's move to New York, the attempts of Señor Carreño to enter business proved unprofitable, and when Teresa's first public recital was planned, in 1862, the concert was a deliberate attempt to rescue the family from financial straits. The nine-year-old girl arrived onstage at New York's Irving Hall with her father at her side and sat alongside him at the piano, her legs still too short to reach the floor. The brilliance of her playing caused a musical sensation, and before the year was out she made her first concert tour, in Cuba. In January 1863, she soloed with the Boston Philharmonic, then went on to play 20 concerts in that city. Invited to the White House, she performed for President Abraham Lincoln, who asked her to play his favorite piece, "Listen to the Mocking Bird," and she was sufficiently unintimidated by the president of the United States to complain about the quality of the piano.

Teresa made another tour of Cuba in 1865. Her abilities had been recognized by then by some of the leading musicians of the times. The famous American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk, for whom she had named her waltz, gave her lessons, and when the great Russian pianist and composer, Anton Rubinstein, gave a series of concerts in the United States, he invited Señor Carreño to bring his daughter to play for him. Rubinstein was so impressed that he suggested the family follow him to Europe so Teresa could study with him. The child had received a similar offer from the composer and pianist Franz Liszt, which had been declined, but in 1866, the Carreño family sailed for Paris, where she studied under both Rubinstein and George Matthias.

At age 18, Carreño was a seasoned performer well-known throughout Europe and America. That year, 1872, she began to give informal piano lessons to Edward MacDowell, then 12 years old, establishing a relationship that was to have important consequences. Throughout Carreño's performing years, Mac-Dowell would continue to send her his newest compositions at intervals, and she would introduce his works to the public through her playing. His Hexentanz and Baracarolle would become her program staples. On July 5, 1888, Carreño would play MacDowell's First Piano Concerto in Chicago under the direction of Theodore Thomas. After MacDowell dedicated his Second Concerto to her, she performed it every year from 1908 to 1914. Carreño also became a personal friend of MacDowell's parents, particularly his mother, and his wife Marian MacDowell . Letters to MacDowell from his mother stress the importance of Carreño's support to the moody young composer, and her featuring of his work in her concerts did much to secure his place in the musical world.

In 1873, Carreño married Émile Sauret, an attractive French violinist, who performed in a concert company. Their union was short-lived but produced two children, whom Carreño was soon supporting on her own. The death of her beloved father in 1874 was a great blow, magnified by her mother's death shortly thereafter. Carreño plunged into performing to earn money, but she was also devoted to family life and was praised by contemporaries for her tenderness as a mother.

Carreño had been on tour in England as a piano soloist with James Henry Mapleson's opera company in 1872 when a backstage crisis inaugurated her operatic career. The company was in Edinburgh when one of the principals could not go on, and Mapleson persuaded Carreño to sing the role of the queen in Les Huguenots. Her well-received performance precipitated a series of singing engagements, and Carreño returned to America in 1875 to study singing with Mme. Ruderdorff . That year, she married the baritone, Giovanni Tagliapietra, and in 1876 she sang the role of Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni in Boston and New York. The couple moved to Venezuela and organized an opera company, where Carreño sang and also conducted the orchestra. The sojourn in Venezuela lasted two years, and three children were born to this marriage.

Teresa Carreño was an intense, dynamic woman, always open to new and interesting experiences. She was therefore the perfect choice to participate in the inaugural Telephone Concert on April 2, 1877, in New York City. The event was the brainchild of Elisha Gray, the inventor who had filed a patent on the telephone only hours after Alexander Graham Bell, precipitating years of legal conflict before Bell was finally awarded the patent. The concert was designed to demonstrate how music could be transmitted long distance, and a group of outstanding artists, among whom Carreño was the most eminent, had been invited to take part on the stage at Steinway Hall. Curious no doubt about what his rival was up to, Alexander Graham Bell was in the audience, and an advertising banner trumpeted, "Transmission of Music by Telegraph! Triumph of American Science!" A telephonic apparatus attended by an operator was set up on stage, and 16 sounding boxes were scattered throughout the hall. Frederick Boscovitz, also a well-known pianist, sat at another apparatus in Philadelphia, some 90 miles away, and played a group of pieces that were transmitted to New York. Though the music that was produced sounded faint and far away, reviewers found that the "effect of the telephone music was on the whole very pleasant."

They called her "The Walküre of the Piano," and there was something wild about her from the moment she emerged from Venezuela.

—Harold C. Schonberg

Though she did not perform over the telephone that evening, Carreño's presence lent credence to the event. She needed no gimmicks, however, to promote her career. Her performances were usually sellouts. She had large hands and was a forceful player, and, like other musicians in the late 19th century, she was willing to take interpretive liberties. At the end of the Grieg piano concerto, for instance, she would play in octaves rather than arpeggios for the simple reason that she had good octaves. Edvard Grieg was a fairly close friend of hers but did not always approve of such tampering; he wrote disgustedly to a friend, "the devil is in the virtuosos who always want to improve on everything." On the other hand, Carreño was a star, and Grieg was happy for her to perform his work. Thundering through the Beethoven Emperor Concerto, the Rubinstein D minor, the Liszt E flat, and the Tchaikovsky B flat minor, she had the power and technique to play these bold works, and left her audiences mesmerized.

In 1877, the same year as the Telephone Concert, Thomas Edison took out a patent on a talking machine. Recorded sound was in its infancy, and early phonograph records were of such poor quality, many musicians preferred to record on piano rolls manufactured for player pianos. The technology was ultimately limited, but some piano roll recordings are actually superior to phonograph records of the same period, and this is the medium in which Carreño's playing has been preserved. In 1961, Telefunken issued 25 LP's from piano rolls, featuring 23 performers playing 80 pieces, which were released on CDs. Flawed as they are, they reveal Carreño's free style, which was not always note perfect (also a norm for the period), and hint at the brilliance of her performances.

Carreño's concert career reached new heights during a series of concerts she gave in Berlin during the fall of 1889. She was the idol of Europe, hailed as "The Walküre of the Piano" for her dual career, and dubbed "The Empress of the Piano" for her performance of large works. Her interest in composing, begun as a child and young adult, continued throughout her life. One of her most famous pieces is the "Teresita Waltz," inspired by the first steps taken by one of her daughters, which she often played as an encore. She composed the Hymn for Bolivar for chorus and orchestra for the centenary celebration of the birth of Simon Bolivar, which was first performed in Caraças in 1885. Other compositions were songs for voice and piano, a choral work, a string quartet, and a serenade for string orchestra as well as orchestral music. The serenade is described as "a remarkable four-movement piece, full of feeling and high ambition … [which] stands as testimony to Carreño's continuing aspirations as a composer."

Like her career, Carreño's personal life was packed with adventure. Her marriage to Giovanni Tagliapietra ended, and in 1892 she married the composer and pianist Eugen d'Albert, who was 11 years her junior. Carreño was the second of his six wives, and each spouse occupied a separate wing of a castle in Germany. The confusion of such living arrangements was reflected in a German review, which read: "Frau Carreño yesterday played for the first time the second concerto of her third husband at the fourth Philharmonic concert." Their marriage produced two children, and d'Albert was the most talented of her husbands, but they remained together only three years. The union had a lasting impact on her playing, however, which was transformed from her original forceful and impetuous style into that of a thoughtful, and even profound, performer.

In 1902, Carreño married Arturo Tagliapietra, the brother of her second husband. It was to be her longest and happiest marriage. Meanwhile, her interest in new composers continued. Adding the works of Edvard Grieg to her repertoire, she was one of the first to give the Norwegian composer considerable exposure. She also became acquainted with the young American Amy Beach whose reputation as a composer continues to grow steadily. Carreño never actually performed Beach's concerto, which premiered in Boston on April 6, 1900, but a score and complete set of orchestra parts is in the Carreño collection, as well as correspondence between the two women. Carreño did take part in performances of Beach's Violin Sonata in Germany, and the correspondence indicates that Beach hoped Carreño would play the same role in her life as she had in MacDowell's. Apparently Carreño's manager was not supportive of Beach's work, and meanwhile the pianist was being constantly admonished by MacDowell's mother to perform the pieces of her son.

Carreño had many pupils beside MacDowell. In describing her teaching technique, Ruth Payne Burgess writes that Carreño stressed using the weight of the whole arm and wrist to bring forth a rich, full tone from the instrument. She stressed exercises that students had to master before they were allowed to play actual pieces, and she often admonished, "Squeeze the notes. Do not hit them." An intense performer, she also said, "Express emotion, feeling in your playing, but not hysterics." While on tour she would send her students "lesson letters" full of advice. Burgess, who was also a friend and frequent visitor in the Carreño home, described her teacher as generous, compassionate, and full of love for her children.

Five of Carreño's seven children lived to adulthood. The eldest, Emelita Sauret Tauscher , married a German and lived in Berlin. Teresita Carreño Tagliapietra , for whom the waltz was named, married an Englishman and also performed as a pianist. A son, Giovanni Tagliapietra, Jr., became a baritone singer like his father. The two daughters of Eugen d'Albert, Herta and Eugenia, both married and lived in Berlin.

As Carreño grew older, her hectic schedule subsided. Some 50 years after she had played for President Lincoln, she was invited to perform at the White House again, this time for President Woodrow Wilson, in 1916. The following year, she was on tour in Cuba when she fell ill and returned to New York. Over several months of illness, she became paralyzed and died on June 12, 1917, at age 63. Her honorary pallbearers included Ignace Jan Paderewski, Walter Damrosch, and Charles Steinway. Edward MacDowell's widow, Marian, was in attendance and many other pupils and fellow performers. Her ashes were later returned to Venezuela where a theater was founded in her name and a museum was established, containing some of her belongings. On June 12, 1938, Venezuela issued a postage stamp with her portrait. In 1940, Marta Milinowski , a former pupil and a professor of music, responsible for preserving the Carreño's papers at Vassar, published Teresa Carreño: "By the Grace of God."

Few child prodigies have successful careers as adults. Teresa Carreño not only flourished professionally, but she encouraged new artists and lived a rich, even tempestuous, personal life. A century beyond the height of her career, the Empress of the Piano has few rivals in achievement.


Burgess, Ruth Payne. "Teresa Carreño as a Teacher," in The Etude. Vol. 48, no. 11, pp. 779–781, 826.

Davis, Peter G. "Music by Women Composers," in The New York Times. April 13, 1980, p. D26.

Holoman, Jan. "From Shadow to Substance," in Saturday Review of Literature. Vol. 45, no. 21. May 26, 1962, pp. 46–47, 57.

Klein, Alvin. "Reprising a Tempestuous Pianist's Life," in The New York Times. February 10, 1991, sec. XII–LI, p. 11.

K.M. "Chamberworks by Women Composers," in High Fidelity. May 1980, pp. 87–88.

Kammer, Rafael. "Foreign Market," in The American Record Guide. Vol. 27, no. 6. January 1961, pp. 457–465.

Mann, Brian. "The Carreño Collection at Vassar College," in Notes. June 1991, pp. 1064–1083.

"Mme. Carreno Here after Long Absence," in The New York Times. October 28, 1916, p. 11.

"Mme Carreno's Recital," in New York Tribune. October 28, 1916, p. 9.

"Mme Teresa Carreno, Famous Pianist, Dies," in The New York Times. June 13, 1917, p. 13.

"Musicians Gather at Carreno's Bier," in The New York Times. June 15, 1917, p. 9.

Schonberg, Harold C. The Great Pianists. Simon and Schuster, 1963.

——. "When Music was Broadcast by Telephone," in The New York Times. May 11, 1975, sec. II, p. 17.

"The Telephone Concert," in New York Daily Tribune. April 3, 1877, p. 5.

"Teresa Carreno and the Venezuela Hymn," in The New York Times. June 17, 1917, p. 10.

related media:

In 1989, pianist-actress Pamela Ross starred in her own full-length production, Carreño!, loosely based on the artist's life.


The Carreño Collection at Vassar College has the most extensive holdings of the artist's compositions, some 42 in all, 26 published, the rest in manuscript, as well as letters, manuscripts, programs, scrapbooks and clippings documenting her life.

Karin Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia

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Carreño, Teresa (1853–1917)

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