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Teresa Carreno: Piano Works
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Matthew Paris

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Post Fri Jan 30, 2004 7:04 pm - Teresa Carreno: Piano Works
Listening to the ARS Music CD of Alexandra Oehler playing piano pieces of Teresa Carrenoís late digital effusions is a fulcrum for a profound bafflement about the very sources of musical inspiration or a lack of a civil visit from the muse.
To the cognoscenti Teresa Carreno was a legendary pianist of the late 19th and early 20th century whose performances were famed for their ďmasculineĒ character. In other words, they were notably powerful and ferocious with a savage propulsive quality that decided the fey filigree admired by the febrile and decadent such as one heard in recitals of de Pachmann.
Though she died in 1917 and never recorded, if one is resourceful one can find her subtle and sensitive Weltig Piano Roils in which she thunders through the Chopin Scherzi among other heroic magicks with the very feral and clarion felicity for which she had when an earthly resident been famous; we know from these stunning piano rolls the critics did not lie.
Like nearly every other prophetic mattress and master of the fingerbusters of her age Carreno campsite in a salon style which was in her case a syrupy gaggle of not all that deep fuillletons as well as performing utterances more substantial than her own more vaporous and candied gewgaws.
Alexandra Oehler on this world premiere CD of Carreno gives us a sample of the forty or so piano pieces she Britomart of the keyboard not penned, not one note of which is ordinal and wasnít composed before by other people with more effect.
This ultimate eclecticism isnít a disease we now are afflicted with beyond savoring an occasional itinerant show of Elvis impersonators; Carreno was hardly infected with such a fake afflatus alone.
It might be said not that only that nearly all music beyond a few originals, in and out of music we admire, perhaps all life in the universe whirling around Betelgeuse and beyond among the landfill of cosmic history is as terminally derivative.
I donít think Carreno was entirely serious about this music, adorned with titles such as ballad, meditation, elegie, beceuse, fantasie-waltz and so on; she was no dope. She knew better than most of us her chips and sawdust from her artisanís table were are harmonically and every other way a throwback to the 1830s if they were sometimes written in the 20th century. We all like a vacation among the femurs and gigantic skulls of the Jurassic age; so did she.
They are respectable if utterly uninteresting footnotes to unstated music of a great pounced who probably practiced the original and astonishing masterpieces of other composers several hours a day, falling into improvisation os one does when focused on a somewhat tedious labor. Her bagatelles have the quality of a vaudeville mimic doing his take on thirty Hollywood stars at once; the sheer breath of derivativeness has its microscopic astonishments without being other than dull in a large and soporific way.
She certainly wrote down these slightly rancid honeyed souffles and published them, a sign that she didnít think they were as negligible as they in fact are. They fall into the bottom of category of occasional music written by the itinerant digital wizards of her time, hardly a trivial trove to any but the overly sober. The most excellent of them these peripatetic and thaumaturges was Liszt; Iím happy to say Iíve never heard the worst of them.
Even the ippissimi among such trekking musical circuses with their obligatory high wire spectacles wrote much too much music. Liszt wrote oceans of such drivel we luckily never hear. Necromancers from Liszt to Carreno wrote such saccharine babble because they had nothing else to do expect stare out the window at an alien wilderness somewhere on the planet on Kruppís slow railroad trains.
Alexandra Oehler is a dogged and tolerably intelligent pianist without any of the uncanny resources of timbres and vocal rubato that might in the hands of a great sonic theosophist make this music seem more intriguing than it is. This is not to trash her; she isnít any better or worse as a pianist that Carreno is as a composer. At least thanks to those marvelous piano rolls we have a record of the field where Carreno was great and worthy of our attention.
Sometimes we know too much rather than too little about saints we admire. We donít feel Carrenoís contemporaries as digital wizard were poltroons because they werenít also like God or Liszt artificers ex nihilo. Itís also good to know who was and who wasnít a creative composer from the evidence; we can thank the intrepid Alexandra Oehler for her efforts for a company that advertises its arcane CDs as world premieres. Klug iz mir. Sometimes of course we are no more amused by the new than by the odiously stale and ordinary.
This nosegay of Teresa Carrenoís bon-bons was certainly inspired by a general look at the musical past and present by historical revisionists of our time interested in making a case for female talents in music. Although we can be glad that the torpor of maundering in entrenched ways of perceiving anything at all shift the fashioners of putative designers of the past, not content with making plans for a utopian future, to present new patterns in an infinite cemetery which the bottom becomes the top, former shadows and demons are presented as gaudy circles of light and its angels, cranks are dubbed precursors, quacks, prophets and champions of cantatas for dullness and legitimacy are hustled out of the dusky spas of post-natal and post-mortal pleasure where they have long lurked in the ontological night. If we are wags we are all entertained for a season by this post-Marian cultish gaggle of etudes in fashion, indifferent as they may be to truth.
The harvest of these pious body snatchers we can honor is that if we live long enough we have access to nearly every folly along with previously unthinkable vices if they are physically available at all to be savored. People are rousted out of prisons and slums to be knighted, churls once called innocent victims who are now lordly and have the license of humorless clowns to amuse us.
This is how the gulls were induced to many cults including kim chee and the Atkins diet. We all know the immortal story with the details a little different from cause to cause. One is shunned, persecuted, trashed and generally disdained as a mountebank or lowlife; then one is lauded by a new set of critics as virtuous, untainted by sin, an innocent victim of oneís nefarious persecutors. Zounds!
Carreno fascinated her time justly because she was androgynous to martial as a pianist; she offered not only her great pianism but a perverse frisson. Perhaps that was not as important as her great digital talent. Now she is pitched at us as one of the minor saints of a putative history that features the achievements under duress of women.
Veh iz mir. Greedy as we are, we are all enriched by discovering the genius of anybody, even ourselves; we hope as well there are intriguing spirits on other planets. We are sending rockets there at costs we cannot afford to scour the universe for our celestial entertainment. We hope to devour the amusements of intelligent worms on purple stars whose nature we cannot fathom beyond their sinister charm.
I donít think much of a case has to be made for women in the Arts; they are good and great as anybody, lousy as anybody else when theyíre like most men and curs all too justifiably forgettable. Like most males, perhaps like armies of intelligent giant arachnids on the large moons of Jupiter, most of anybody in this cosmos is sorrily not notably worth our attention. Thatís the way God is, folks: prodigal.
Helas, like the vast crypt in the inverse of not particularly memorable men nor those hooved and soft skulled horrors without much ontological savor in the seventeen fingered anaerobes that populate the barely elliptical solar systems of Io, there are lamentably only a few men and women of genius in musical history. Almost none of them are honored as they should be after a few decades of historical revisionism by the academic, craven and politically correct.
Instead we have synthetic careers of the Stalinist and otherwise reliable as we all can swallow like pajaritos if the taste is nearly all refrito Yankee bean in all such cabals of zealots. Senor, donít ask me to name names. Just look out the window. When you feel boredom or a mild pique at ordinary folly you know it as you are aware of noxious intestinal itches, the nacral and sour perfumes of death or the dull leibeskrank of a minor headache.
There are two women in musical history from whom I would like to hear a lot more: Fanny Mendelssohn and Marga Richter. Fanny Mendelssohnís Das Jahr is a great work, up there with the best. Mendelssohn and Richter are the Westís resident gaudy female genius composers of the past two censures. Beyond them we might be trying to raise the dead and make the dull into sages without the sacred power to do so.
Of course, just as there is a moderate aesthetic we only apply to the most cunning of Greek diners, it might be a genuine mitsvah ha gadol to hear more of intriguing female composers who might astonish us if we knew more of them. Iíd like to hear a lot more of Rebecca Clarke, Peggy Granville Hicks, Louise Talma, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Lili Boulanger and Germaine Talliaferre. I definitely want to hear the complete works of Julia Wolfe, a real and very much alive female genius. That delicious scherzo in Amy Beachís piano concerto is as good as anything.
Since I am a patriot Iíd also like to hear most of the music of Kay Swift, an American composer known to us only for a few great pop songs, a serious composer who turned out among other large achievements a piano concerto. To tell you the truth, folks, music is like brain surgery; you just want the doc to be good. Nothing else is important.
Iím certain there are twenty or thirty other women whom I have never heard of who have fallen through the imaginary cracks and hellish pits of history in my lifetime when women are supposedly okay as prophetic intelligences because they are independent and honest geniuses like Marga Richter. Should we in this era of cheap CDs hear twenty or thirty works of Marga Richter? Hey, Marga Richter is the real thing.
Bubbie, Clara Schumann isnít. Nor is Teresa Carreno. It isnít going to help us as listeners or Carreno as a musical talent to make an advocacy for her as a composer anymore than we could make such a persuasive case for the worst of Franz Liszt. Of course itís nice to have the horrible evidence in front of us to be able to disdain what we previously could not shun on any evidence, he censorable about the once unknown with a pious scorn born of both our own private woes and an objective justice.
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