Musical prodigies

Last night, I attend a fascinating concert presented by the Hispanic Society of America, entitled “I am Carreno.” Preceded by a short lecture on the life of Teresa Carreno, the program was performed by 4 musicians dressed in mid-19th c. attire, reciting from contemporaneous accounts of Carreno’s performances and performing not only her own music, but music by her many teachers, mentors and students. I did not know about her before this, but from what I learned (and have since read on-line), she was a prodigious talent. Already touring at age 12, she was not only an extraordinarily talented pianist, but could do it all. When meeting Bellini, he recognized her talent, and started her on the road to operatic performance as well, at which she also excelled – and had a career spanning decades as both a pianist, composer, operatic soprano, conductor and impresario.

The program included music by Bellini, Gounod, Liszt, McDowell and others who Carreno either studied with, taught, married or simply met along the path of her extraordinary career. While the performances of these varied works was well done, I have to say that, except for the one Mozart aria, I found all of the music entirely trite. The composers on the program, were, by and large, musical giants who were born with nearly limitless natural skill. But, it reminded me that talent isn’t all. Liszt is, to my mind, the pre-eminent example of this. Another Mozart, except with Mozart’s profundity missing. An incredible talent who wrote an amazing quantity of music that I never want to hear (some exceptions to this, here and there). The compositions on the program, to my mind, mostly belonged in the composer’s trash can rather than in the repertoire. Watching some of them performed, given their level of difficulty, can be impressive – but the musical result just doesn’t merit all of the technical fireworks. The music by Carreno herself that was on the program, fell into that same category. I am curious to listen to more, to see if that is the case, but at least from what I heard last night, as a composer, her musical talent, however amazing, wasn’t enough to join the ranks of the great composers.

While it is an important question, I don’t believe I can define what it is that separates the music that makes my spirit soar from the music which merely entertains (at best) or is annoyingly trivial (at worst).