Teresa Carreño
Born December 22, 1853, in Caracas, Venezuela
Died June 12, 1917, in New York, New York
Performance time
20 minutes
Last Performed by the TSO
TSO Premiere: February 2, 2024

Nicknamed the “Valkyrie of the Piano,” Venezuelan pianist, soprano, composer, and conductor Teresa Carreño earned her hard-fought reputation over the course of her 54-year concert career. After only a handful of lessons from Louis Moreau Gottschalk, she made her 1862 debut at Irving Hall in New York City at the age of 8. A year later, she was performing for Abraham Lincoln at the White House. So mighty was her musicianship that she turned down none other than the great Franz Liszt when he offered her lessons. Her playing and personality are perhaps best characterized in an endlessly-repeated quote from Henry Wood: “[she] looked like a queen among pianists—and played like a goddess.”

We find Carreño in a less divinely regal mode in her lovely Serenade for Strings. Here she approaches the genre of the great Classical composers, while not laying aside the bold romantic language of her contemporaries. The opening “Andante—Andante con moto” is as full an lush as a landscape watercolor by one of the Romantic masters. With the swelling strings and pizzacato raindrops one can almost hear the green pastures of Pertisau, the small Austrian village nestled amongst the alps in which Carreño penned this piece. The following “Allegro vivace” provides a Scherzo that is as humorous as it is tempestuously dramatic. Yet it is the most formulaically conventional movement, following the Classical structure of scherzo–trio–scherzo. The passionate and operatic “Andantino—Agitato molto” begins with a recitative for solo cello. Equally at home on the opera stage is a duet for cello and violin at the end of the middle section. The rainy landscape of the first movement returns to close the movement. The forceful “Tempo di Marcia” deftly blends sonata form with theme and variations, revelling in sharp tonal contrasts between sections

Benjamin P. Skoronski