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The Life and Music of Teresa Carreño: Author Interview

The following is an interview with Anna Kijas, author of The Life and Music of Teresa Carreño (1853–1917): A Guide to Research, part of the MLA Index and Bibliography series, published by A-R Editions.

Q: How did you become interested in Teresa Carreño?

Anna: I became better acquainted with Teresa Carreño’s music while taking an undergraduate course about women in music taught by Virginia Eskin, an amazing pianist and champion of women composers, at Northeastern University. During this class, Virginia would perform excerpts or full pieces by various women composers, which included works by Carreño. This music class was one of several during my undergraduate years that really changed the way I view and approach the history of music and the field of musicology. It was an eye-opening moment for me to be at Northeastern University during this time, because there were several women scholars/performers in the department, especially Eskin and Judith Tick , who challenged notions about the music canon through their pedagogy, scholarship, and performances, and made a significant impact on my development as a music scholar. For many years, during and post graduate school, I worked for Judith as a research assistant and during this time she modeled to me how women do music research and scholarship and she introduced me to other musicologists and historians, including Jane Bernstein. Jane was my advisor at Tufts University while I wrote my thesis about the Polish composer and pianist Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831).  

I don’t remember exactly when/how I decided that I was going to write about Teresa Carreño, but it was shortly after I finished my book about Maria Szymanowska (Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831). Scarecrow Press, 2010). At some point when I realized that she was an underrepresented subject in music—despite having published over seventy compositions for piano, voice, chamber, and string orchestra and being an internationally acclaimed pianist—I decided that I would work on reestablishing her legacy and making her visible again. I was not sold on the idea that I would write a book about Carreño. Initially I was interested in exploring primary source materials documenting her performance career, which led me to create the Documenting Teresa Carreño project. I am an open access (OA) advocate and felt that as a librarian I could contribute to her legacy by creating a public musicology project that anyone interested in learning more about Carreño would be able to access. The intent was to reverse the erasure—which has happened to so many women and marginalized figures in music—by making select content about her performances from 1863-1917 available in a way that might draw anyone, music scholar or not, in. With maps, visualizations, data, links to primary source OA content, as well as short descriptions (with metadata!) about her performances, Documenting Teresa Carreño was created.

Q: What was the process like in doing the research for this book?

Anna: When I began doing research about Carreño, I was focused on the digital project, so I was pretty methodical about what kind of data and information I collected and how it was structured. I was interested in exploring her performance career so in order to this I identified sources that would provide me with various data and content including dates, locations, venue names, performance repertoire and composers, bibliographic citations for advertisements, announcements, reviews, and transcriptions. Compiling these data was a large part of the project and although I identified over 3,000 performances, I had to be selective about which ones to include and curate for the digital project. I eventually realized that I was simultaneously creating a large bibliography of primary source material, literature, music, and other materials about Carreño, which did not exist anywhere else, and this is when I decided that I would turn this into a book project.

Carreño had a 50+ year concert career and traveled a great deal throughout her life—she performed across North America, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Due to this constant movement sources documenting her life and music can be found in many archives around the world, which is challenging for researchers. Some percentage of these materials can be discovered in print or online resources thanks to the labor of library and archives professionals who cataloged, created metadata, finding aids, or in some cases, digitized items related to Carreño. 

As can be seen in my book (especially in the Library Sigla sections), I consulted source material housed in over 70 archives and libraries in addition to historical content (e.g. periodicals, sheet music) that can be accessed via databases and other digital library collections online. I described and annotated each of the sources in my book as I reviewed them, but at times I had to go back to the original or a digital surrogate and spend some additional time with the item. All of this work is quite time consuming and I think that the writing of the biography went much more quickly thanks to the intensive time spent reviewing each source. One of the main archives that I visited regularly was the Archives & Special Collections Library at Vassar College where I examined close to every item in the Teresa Carreño Papers. During each of my visits I took photos and transcribed details from the materials I reviewed so that I could further analyze them at home. This collection is important for several reasons. It is the largest collection about Carreño in North America and the materials were given to Vassar directly by Carreño’s husband, Arturo Tagliapietra, around 1931 and later purchased from the estate. Additionally, Carreño’s first biographer, Marta Milinowski (Teresa Carreño, ‘By the Grace of God.’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940)) made extensive use of this collection for her 1940 biography and was one of the only scholars able to interact with these materials before about half of the collection was sent to Venezuela. The portion of the collection sent to Venezuela is now in El Archivo Histórico de Teresa Carreño at the Centro Documental del Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas. While working on this book, I began communicating regularly with Dr. Jesús Eloy Gutiérrez, Head of the Centro Documental, in order to identify what materials were housed in Caracas. Shortly before my book was published, Jesús had begun working on an online catalog that included metadata for Carreño’s concert programs and also published a book in 2018, Teresa Carreño: Cartas y documentos, that describes and transcribes a selection of letters from this collection. Some of the materials are also described in my book; however, I see this recent activity from Caracas as complimentary to my book and I hope that they will be able to continue their work describing the items and make these access points available to other researchers interested in Carreño.

Q: How would you like researchers to use the information in this book?

Anna: I have a number of hopes for the way in which this book can be used. One is that people will use this book as a jumping off point for their own research, which may be about Carreño directly or may be a topic that intersects with Carreño due to some common element. As I mentioned earlier, there are still many sources about Carreño’s life and musical career that are unknown (except to their stewards, perhaps) and when examined may shed additional light on her as a person and musician, adding to the richness of her history.

Annotated bibliographies and research guides are resources that I know many librarians, including myself, introduce to graduate students and faculty who are starting out with a new research topic or are not aware of the body of literature that already exists about a particular subject or topic. The breadth and scope of the sources identified in my book should demonstrate to scholars and researchers that there are so many different angles and threads to explore not only to better understand Carreño as a pianist, composer, teacher, advocate, mother, friend, or wife, but also her impact or significance in relation to other performers and musicians of that period. And, I hope that it will create renewed interest in Carreño, because her life and work certainly deserves greater attention and scholarly efforts.