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Teresa Carreno, Deux Elegies, Plainte!: Biographical Overview

by Rebekah Gibson and Bonnie Vigil


Lithograph of a young Teresa Carreño sitting with her elbow resting on a piano with a caption reading "Teresa Carreno, The Child Pianist."

Dominique Fabronius, "Teresa Carreno, The Child Pianist," 1863, lithograph, Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Teresa Carreño (1853-1917)

Composer Teresa Carreño was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 22, 1853, to Manuel Antonio Carreño Muñoz and Clorinda García de Sena y Rodríguez del Toro. She was renowned throughout her life as a performer and conductor, immersed in music from a young age by her father, Manuel, and grandfather, Cayetano Carreño. By eight years old, Carreño had begun performing for private audiences in Caracas, where she managed to pique local interest. However, with the continuous tensions of La Guerra Federal (a power struggle between Venezuela’s conservative government and its liberal opposition from 1859 to 1863), Carreño’s family decided to move to New York, where the eight-year-old prodigy made her public debut. She traveled throughout the world performing piano for many influential figures of the time, from political figures such as Abraham Lincoln to musical figures such as Gioachino Rossini, Franz Liszt, Charles Gounod, and Camille Saint-Saëns. She spent much of her early career in Paris, France, before returning to the United States in 1872 at age nineteen. Her adult career was quite turbulent, to say the least. After four marriages, five children, and a non-stop schedule of international performance, she succumbed to illness and died in New York in 1917 at the age of 63. For her prodigy status and international renown, Carreño served as a symbol to the Venezuelan people of her time that significant cultural development could be achieved despite the societal turmoil, and continues to serve as a symbol of Venezuelan excellence and progress to this day.