Teresa CarreÑo

Teresa CarreñoBiographical. Teresa Carreño was born at Caracas, Venezuela, December 22, 1853. She descended from one of the foremost families of Spanish America, which boasted of Simon Bolivar “the Washington of South America” as one of its members. Artists have been known among her ancestors as far back as the fourteenth century when the famous painter Carreño lived in Spain.

Mme. Carreño’s first teacher was her father. Later she studied with a German teacher in her native country. At seven she played the Rondo Capriccio of Mendelssohn with great éclat. A revolution obliged the Carreño family to move to New York. The death of a friend to whom funds had been entrusted placed the party of eighteen refugees in dire straits and a concert was arranged at which the tiny Teresa came to the front and secured sufficient means for their existence.

Gottschalk, then in the height of his fame in New York, became the child’s next teacher. She remained with him for two years. Then she went to Paris and became a pupil of Georges Mathias, the famous disciple of Chopin. Her success as a virtuoso pianist in Europe excited the attention of Rubinstein who devoted a great deal of time to giving her invaluable advice and instruction in interpretation. Indeed Rubinstein was so proud of her that he repeatedly introduced her as his daughter in art and would jokingly say “Are not our hands exactly alike?”

Mme. Carreño’s brilliance, force, breadth of thought and almost sensuous love for the beautiful made her numerous tours through all of the music-loving countries remarkably successful.

Teresa CarreÑo: Early Evidences of Individuality

It is difficult for me to discuss the subject of individuality without recollecting one of the most impressive and significant events of my entire career. When I was taken to Europe as a child, for further study, it was my good fortune to meet and play for the immortal Franz Liszt. He seemed deeply interested in my playing, and with the kindliness for which he was always noted he gave me his blessing, a kind of artistic sacrament that has had a tremendous influence upon all my work as an artist. He laid his hand upon my head and among other things said: “Little girl, with time you will be one of us. Don’t imitate anyone. Keep yourself true to yourself. Cultivate your individuality and do not follow blindly in the paths of others.”

In this one thought Liszt embodied a kind of a pedagogical sermon which should be preached every day in all the schools, conservatories and music studios of the world. Nothing is so pitiful as the evidences of a strong individuality crushed out by an artificial educational system which makes the system itself of paramount importance and the individual of microbic significance.

The signs of individuality may be observed in little folks at a very early age. With some children they are not very pronounced, and the child seems like hundreds of others without any particular inclination, artistic or otherwise. It is then that the teacher’s powers of divination should be brought into play. Before any real progress can be made the nature of the child must be studied carefully. In the case of other children, the individuality is very marked at an early age. As a rule, the child with the marked individuality is the one from whom the most may be expected later in life. Sometimes this very individuality is mistaken for precocity. This is particularly the case with musicians. In a few instances the individuality of the master has been developed late in life, as was the case of Richard Wagner, whose early individual tendencies were toward the drama rather than music.

Teresa CarreÑo: New Problems at Every Step

The teacher in accepting a new pupil should realize that there at once arises new problems at every step. The pupil’s hand, mind, body and soul may be in reality different from those of every other pupil the teacher has taught. The individual peculiarities of the hand should be carefully considered. If the hand has long, tapering fingers, with the fingers widely separated, it will need quite different treatment from that of the pupil with a short, compact, muscular hand. If the pupil’s mind indicates mental lethargy or a lack of the proper early educational training, this must be carefully considered by the teacher.

If the pupil’s body is frail and the health uncertain, surely the teacher will not think of prescribing the same work she would prescribe for a robust, energetic pupil who appears never to have had a sick day. One pupil might be able to practice comfortably for four and five hours a day, while another would find her energy and interest exhausted in two hours. In fact, I would consider the study of individuality the principal care or study of the teacher.

The individuality of different virtuoso performers is very marked. Although the virtuoso aspires to encompass all styles—that is, to be what you would call an “all-around” player—it is, nevertheless, the individuality of the player that adds the additional charm to the piano-recital. You hear a great masterpiece executed by one virtuoso, and when you hear the same composition played by another you will detect a difference, not of technical ability or of artistic comprehension, but rather of individuality. Rem- brandt, Rubens and Vandyke might have all painted from the same model, but the finished portrait would have been different, and that difference would have been a reflection of the individuality of the artist.

Teresa CarreÑo: The Teacher's Responsibility

Again let me emphasize the necessity for the correct “diagnosis” of the pupil’s individuality upon the part of the teacher. Unless the right work is prescribed by the teacher, the pupil will rarely ever survive artistically. It is much the same as with the doctor. If the doctor gives the wrong medicine and the patient dies, surely the doctor is to blame. It makes no difference whether the doctor had good inten- tions or not. The patient is dead and that is the end of all. I have little patience with these people who have such wonderful intentions, but who have neither the ability, courage nor willingness to carry out these intentions. Many teachers would like to accomplish a very great deal for their pupils, but alas! they are either not able or they neglect those very things which make the teacher’s work a mission. One of the teacher’s greatest responsibilities lies in determining at first upon a rational educational course by divining the pupil’s individuality. Remember that pupils are not all like sheep to be shorn in the same identical fashion with the same identical shears.

Teresa CarreÑo: Edward Macdowell's Individuality

One of the most remarkable cases of a pronounced musical individuality was that of the late Edward MacDowell, who came to me for instruction for a considerable time. He was then quite youthful, and his motives from the very first were of the highest and noblest. His ideals were so lofty that he required little stimulation or urging of any kind. Here it was necessary to study the pupil’s nature very carefully, and provide work that would develop his keenly artistic individuality. I remember that he was extremely fond of Grieg, and the marked and original character of the Norwegian tone-poet made a deep impression upon him. He was poetical, and loved to study and read poetry. To have repressed MacDowell in a harsh or didactic manner would have been to have demolished those very characteristics which, in later years, developed in such astonishing fashion that his compositions have a distinctiveness and a style all their own.

It gives me great pleasure to place his compositions upon my programs abroad, and I find that they are keenly appreciated by music lovers in the old world. If MacDowell had not had a strong individuality, and if he had not permitted this individuality to be developed along normal lines, his compositions would not be the treasures to our art that they are.

Teresa CarreÑo: Developing Individuality Through Poetry

If the teacher discovers a pupil with apparent musical talent, but whose nature has not been developed to appreciate the beautiful and romantic in this wonderful world of ours, he will find it quite impossible to alter the pupil’s individuality in this respect by work at the keyboard alone. The mundane, prosaic individual who believes that the sole aim of musical study is the acquisition of technic, or the magic of digital speed, must be brought to realize that this is a fault of individuality which will mar his entire career unless it is intelligently corrected. Years and years spent in practice will not make either a musician or a virtuoso out of one who can conceive of nothing more than how many times he can play a series of notes within the beats of the metronome, beating 208 times a minute.

Speed does not constitute virtuosity, nor does the ability to unravel the somewhat intricate keyboard puzzles of Bach and Brahms make in itself fine piano playing. The mind of the artist must be cultured; in fact, quite as cultured as that of the composer who conceived the music. Culture comes from the observation of many things: Nature, architecture, science, machinery, sculpture, history, men and women, and poetry. I advise aspiring music students to read a great deal of poetry.

I find great inspiration in Shakespeare, inspiration which I know is communicated to my interpretations of musical masterpieces at my concerts. Who can remain unmoved by the mystery and psychology of Hamlet, the keen suffering and misery of King Lear, the bitter hate and revenge of Othello, the sweet devotion of Romeo and Juliet, the majesty of Richard III, and the fairy beauty of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? In this wonderful kaleidoscope of all the human passions one can find a world of inspiration. I am also intensely fond of Goethe, Heine, and Alfred de Musset. It gives me pleasure to compare them to the great masters of music. Shakespeare I compare to Brahms, Goethe to Bach and Beethoven, and Heine and Musset to Chopin and Liszt.

Teresa CarreÑo: Cultivating Vivacity and Brilliancy

Vivacity and brilliancy in playing are largely matters of temperament and a fluent technic. I owe a great deal in this respect to Gottschalk. When he came back to America fresh from the hands of the inimitable Chopin, he took the most minute pains to cultivate this characteristic in my playing. Chopin’s own playing was marked by delicacy and an intensity that was apart from the bravura playing of most of the artists of his time. Gottschalk was a keen observer, and he did everything possible to impart this style to me. I have used the studies of Czerny, Liszt, Henselt and Clementi to develop brilliancy with pupils.

It should be remembered that the root of all brilliant playing lies in one thing—accuracy. Without accuracy any attempt at brilliancy must result in “mussiness.” It is impossible to explain these things by means of books and theories. Remember what Goethe says: “Alle Theorie is grau, mein Freund” (all theory is foggy or hard to comprehend). One can say fifty times as much in twenty minutes as one can put in a book. Books are necessary, but by no means depend entirely upon books for technical instruction.

Individuals who are careless possess a trait that will seriously mar their individuality as musicians and artists. Carelessness is so often taken for “abandon” in playing. “Abandon” is something quite different and pertains to that unconsciousness of technical effort which only comes to the artist after years of practice. To play with “abandon” and miss a few notes in this run, play a few false notes in the next, strike the wrong bass note here and there, mumble trills and overlook the correct phrasing entirely, with the idea that you are doing the same thing you have seen some great virtuoso do, is simply the superlative degree of carelessness.

To one whose individuality is marred by carelessness let me recommend very slow playing, with the most minute attention to detail. Technically speaking, Czerny and Bach are of great value in correcting carelessness. In Czerny the musical structure of the compositions is so clearly and openly outlined that any error is easily detected, while in Bach the structure is so close and compact that it is difficult to make an error without interrupting the movement of some other voice that will reveal the error. The main consideration, however, is personal carefulness, and it makes little difference what the study is, so long as the student himself takes great pains to see that he is right, and exactly right, before he attempts to go ahead. Most musicians, however, would say that Bach was the one great stone upon which our higher technical structure must firmly stand.

Some individuals are so superficial and so “frothy” that it is difficult to conceive of their doing anything serious or really worth while. It is very hard for the teacher to work with such a pupil, because they have not realized themselves as yet. They have not looked into their lives and discerned those things which make life of most importance. Life is not all play, nor is it all sorrow. But sorrow often does much to develop the musician’s character, to make him look into himself and discover his more serious purposes. This might also be accomplished by some such means of self- introspection as “Christian Science.” Although I am not a “Christian Scientist,” I am a great believer in its wonderful principles.

The greatest care must be taken in developing the individualities of the superficial pupils. To give them Bach or Brahms at the outstart would be to irritate them. They must be led to a fondness for music of a deeper or more worthy character by gradual steps in that direction. In my own case I was fortunate in having the advice of mature and famous musicians, and as a child was given music of a serious order only. I have always been grateful for this experience. At one of my first New York concerts I had the honor of having Theodore Thomas as first violinist, and I well remember his natural bent for music of a serious order, which was in a decided contrast to the popular musical taste of the times.

Teresa CarreÑo: The Importance of Studying Musical History

Every composer has a pronounced individuality. To the experienced musician this individuality becomes so marked that he can often detect the composer’s style in a composition which he has never heard. The artist studies the individuality of the composer through the study of his biography, through the study of musical history in general and through the analysis of individual compositions.

Every music student should be familiar with the intensely necessary and extremely valuable subject of musical history. How else can he become familiar with the personal individualities of the great composers? The more I know of Chopin, Beethoven, Scarlatti or Mendelssohn as men, and the more I know of the times in which they lived, the closer I feel to the manner in which they would have wished their compositions interpreted. Consider how markedly different are the individualities of Wagner and Haydn, and how different the interpretations of the works of these masters should be.

Strauss and Debussy are also very different in their methods of composition. Strauss seems to me a tremendous genius who is inventing a new musical language as he goes. Debussy does not appeal to me in the same manner. He always seems to be groping for musical ideas, while with Strauss the greatness of his ideas is always evident and all-compelling.

In closing, let me say that TimeExperience and Work are the moulders of all individuality. Few of us close our days with the same individualities which become evident in our youth. We are either growing better or worse all the time. We rarely stand still. To the musician work is the great sculptor of individuality. As you work and as you think, so will you be. No deed, no thought, no hope is too insignificant to fail to influence your nature. As through work we become better men and women, so through work do we become better musicians. Carlyle has beautifully expressed this thought in “Past and Present” thus: “The latest Gospel in this world is, ’Know thy work and do it.’ Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a WORK, a life purpose; he has found it and will follow it.”

Teresa CarreÑo: Questions on Style, Interpretation,

Expression and technic of Piano Playing

1. Why should imitation be avoided?

2. Should individuality in playing be developed at an early age?

3. Should individual physical peculiarities be taken into consideration?

4. In what way was Edward MacDowell’s individuality marked?

5. How may individuality be developed through poetry?

6. What studies are particularly useful in the cultivation of brilliant playing?

7. What is the best remedy for careless playing?

8. How must superficial pupils be treated?

9. Why is the study of musical history so important?

10. What may be called the sculptor of individuality in music?

Back to Great Pianists on Piano Playing: