Teresa Carreño ‘La Fausse Note’: A South American Scherzo

Here we go again readers, day 12 is upon us and this blog is looking into the brilliant Venezuelan composer, Teresa Carreño and her fabulous piece for piano: La Fausse Note. This will be another exciting venture for us all, so without further ado…

Teresa Carreño was born in Venezuela 1853 into a musical family. She began piano lessons with her father and in 1862 her family emigrated to New York City. She was seen as a child prodigy when she was young, and after the move she began taking lessons with Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In 1862 she made her debut at Irving Hall playing piano and the age of 8. The next year Carreño performed at the White House for Abraham Lincoln. After making her mark at such a young age in America, Carreño moved to Europe to take up lessons with Georges Mathias and Anton Rubinstein. She began touring Europe and she had many teachers wanting to have a lesson with her, including the Hungarian composer, Franz Liszt. Carreño declined lessons, and kept on touring. She returned to Venezuela in 1885 so she could rest for a short period before making her way back to Europe to do more touring before settling for some time in Berlin.

Carreño married three times during her lifetime and her marriages usually broke off because of her commitment to performance. She performed several times at Henry Wood’s promenade concerts, and Wood was a big champion of Carreño’s music. He describes her as ‘a queen among pianists, and she played like a goddess.’ A lot of the information about Carreño centers around her performance career, however, she was also a teacher and composer. One of her first compositions was for piano and was called Gottschalk Waltzshe (names after one of her piano teachers). She mainly composed for piano, writing over 40 works for solo piano, 2 for voice and piano and at least 2 for chamber ensembles with a piano. After her busy and fruitful career, Carreño’s health began to deteriorate and she died on June 12, 1917 in New York City.

For this blog I have chosen to look into her piano work Op. 39 La Fausse Note (‘The Wrong Note’). Composed in Paris, 1872, La Fausse Note is a solo piano work that has a duration of around 5 minutes. The piece is waltz-like, though it initially begins in 5/4 time. The first 16 bars act as an introduction of the main theme. With the use of very quiet dynamics and grace notes, the introduction builds up both the melodic and tonal foundation for when the main theme enters later on. After the first 16 bars the main theme plays and is present for the next 16 measures of the piece. There are lots of chromatic passing notes that embellish the tonality of the piece, which rapidly changes throughout each bar.

The piece has a developmental section as well as proclaiming the main theme numerous times. Carreño’s style is full of Venezuelan zeal and this waltz was perhaps composed to show Venezuelan pride whilst she was in Europe touring. This particular waltz is very pretty, and is very lyrical throughout. It has been analysed that Carreño uses three different ‘Venezuelan Waltz’ motifs throughout the piece. Each of these have their own mini developmental section which then ties them all together at the end of the piece. The piece is colorful harmonically and Carreño uses the piano to create different soundscapes in the accessible medium of a waltz. The piece ends with a strong chord progression of Ab major, F minor and Eb major. The last two bars are comprised of three ff chords back to the ‘home’ key of Ab major.

The aspect of ‘The Wrong Note’ comes in the form of the unexpected modulations throughout the piece as well as the arpeggiated half-tone interval at the beginning of the main theme section. It could be fair to say that identifying an evolution of her style is difficult because Carreño hit her peak at around age 11. Her style is certainly complex and challenging for the performer, and that is consistent throughout her career. Her high-level of musicianship is still sought after today, and her legacy lives on through her music. Carreño came to represent courage for being a woman who lived and traveled to different places in the world. Through her diary writings it is clear that she was a survivor, not a victim when times got hard. Her individuality as a performer, composer and educator shines out and she has left such a successful legacy behind.

Join me for the next composer in the penultimate blog for my Female Fortnight Challenge!

Happy Reading!

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