Ladies’ Pianists

9 Year Old Teresa Carreño

Teresa Carreño, had an overpowering personality, overpowering talent, physical strength, and technique. Besides that, she was one of the most beautiful women of her time. In 1872, she was on a tour of England with James Henry Mapleson, the impresario, as a piano soloist with his opera company. Mapleson persuaded Carreño into the singing the role of the Queen in Meyerbeer’s Huguenots.

Adelina Patti

She was called the ‘Walküre’ of the piano. As a child of nine, she emerged from Venezuela looking very much like Adelina Patti, the 19th Century Opera Singer. Louis Moreau Gottschalk heard her play in New York in 1862 and gave her a few lessons as well as promoted her career. The following year, she was touring, and she played at the White House, where she played for President Lincoln. She was asked to play his favourite piece ‘Listen to the Mocking Bird’. Carreño did and improvised some variations.

Three years later, she studied with Mathias and made a big impression on Rossini and Liszt. Liszt offered to teach her, but Teresa showed her independence by refusing to follow him to Rome. Rossini and Patti wanted to train Teresa to be a singer. Anton Rubinstein heard her in London and gave her lessons whenever their paths converged. Von Bülow called her ‘the most interesting pianist of the present age’ when she made her Berlin debut in 1889.

As fantastic as Teresa was, she required proper ‘schooling’ as she was undisciplined in her playing. Claudio Arrau who called her ‘goddess’ when she filled the Berlin Philharmonic with such wonderous sound. Her octaves were fantastic.

Her private life reflected in her playing. She married the violinist Émile Sauret in 1873 but divorced in 1875 and entered into a common law relationship with a baritone named Giovanni Tagliapietra. They toured and performed together and she would often desert the piano part of the program to sing duets at his side. She was well received as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with an opera company in New York. Shortly thereafter, she toured Venezuela with her husband as a backup role to sing if a singer became unavailable. If a conductor became ill or unavailable, Teresa would conduct.

In 1892, Teresa left her husband and married Eugene d’Albert. Two egocentric temperaments could not get along but had a lot of conflicts. They were both divorced in 1895. Teresa did learn a great deal of Liszt from the great d’Albert. She married Arturo Tagliapietra, the brother of the second husband.

She was a large woman with large hands, exceptionally broad and thick fingers; very much like Rubinstein’s and she played like a man. Her virtuosity irritated some sensitive listeners. According to Edward Grieg, she made inexplicable tempo changes.

In her later years, stately and silver haired, she was the queen of pianists and considered as an equal to the male performers.

Essipoff was almost an exact contemporary of Carreño born in 1851 – 1914. A Russian-born musician and who studied with Leschetizky and married him in 1880. When Essipoff appeared in Boston on Dec 23, 1976, she organized her playing with beautiful movement of her hand and wrist worth watching for itself. Her technique was consummate and faultless. She was the cousin of Moritz Rosenthal.

Paderewski described Essipoff a ‘charming pianist’. He wrote:

‘in many ways was perfect except when it came to strong, effective pieces. Then she was lacing in force, as women pianists generally are. Quite different from Madame Teresa Carreño, who was very small but a strong pianist even too strong for a woman. Carreño was one of the women pianists who had a very big tone, but it was not beautiful tone because a beautiful tone must include tenderness, and there was none of that, just brilliance. Epissoff, on the contrary, was quite the opposite. She was very feminine in her playing and small poetic pieces she could play admirably.’

Liszt-ladies swarmed all over Europe, waving their master’s credentials. But there were even greater number of Leschetizky’s ladies. The young Paula Szalit came to Leschetizky at thirteen. She was ‘the sublime recreative talent of her time’. Shortly, she returned to Poland, and little was heard of her.

The American pianist, Fannie Bloomfield Ziesler who was born in Austria and was brought to Chicago at the age of four; In Chicago, she worked with Bernhardt Ziehnand Carl Wolfsohn. Upon Essipoff’s recommendation, she spent the next five years studying with Leschetizky beginning in 1878. She was powerfully technical with a staggering repertoire.

She was very petite, and critics wrote:’ This small, slight frail, delicate woman, who appears more to need assistance for walking than for playing, how can she dare attempt the gigantic task she often does of playing two or even three great concertos in one evening?’

On February 12, 1906, she disappeared from her Chicago home and was found on the street, described as having ‘almost complete physical and mental exhaustion.’ She was diagnosed with ‘melancholia’.

In addition to the Liszt’s and Lechetizky’s-ladies, there were the Clara Schumann’s ladies. The polish born Natalie Jonatha became court pianist in Berlin in 1885. She has a dog, Prince White, and would not give concert without her dog.

Shaw’s favourite lady pianist was neither Lisztian, Leschetizkian nor Shumannian. She was Agatha Backer-Grøndahl from Norway – ‘a great serious artist, a beautiful, incomparable, unique artist!’. She had studied with Kullak, von Bülow and Liszt. She had a short career and towards the end of her career, she played her own music. Marie Kreb-Brenning, Clotilde Kleeberg, Berta Jahn Tina Lerner Ethel Leginska and Elly Ney were fine pianists whose names carried considerable fame.

Cécile Chaminade, also showed herself as a competent pianist with good technique, grace and a high degree of rhythmic drive and a good deal of pianist finesse.

Helen Hopekirk from Edinburg, studied with Leschetizky and had made a great impression on him. He commented ‘the finest woman musician I have ever known’. Hopekirk appeared in public at the age of eleven, went to Leipzig Conservatory of Music and later taught at the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston and Brookline.

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