Alberto Guerrero | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Alberto Guerrero

Alberto (b Antonio Alberto García Guerrero) Guerrero. Teacher, pianist, composer, b La Serena, Chile, 6 Feb 1886, d Toronto 7 Nov 1959. Alberto Guerrero's early music studies were with his mother and his older brother Daniel; he was otherwise self-taught.

Guerrero, Alberto

Alberto (b Antonio Alberto García Guerrero) Guerrero. Teacher, pianist, composer, b La Serena, Chile, 6 Feb 1886, d Toronto 7 Nov 1959. Alberto Guerrero's early music studies were with his mother and his older brother Daniel; he was otherwise self-taught. After the family established itself in Santiago in the early 1900s, he became known as a versatile composer, brilliant solo pianist, and reform-minded influence in Chilean musical life. He participated in the circle of intellectuals and artists known as Los Diez. Guerrero wrote music for at least four, possibly five, operettas and zarzuelas produced in Chile 1908-15. Another brother, Eduardo, became a leading music critic, and Alberto contributed articles and reviews to the newspaper El diario ilustrado and various journals, and in 1915 published a treatise, La armonia moderna. A handful of chamber works and piano solos survives from his output as a young composer, but the operetta scores and treatise have been lost. An early pupil, Domingo Santa Cruz, later a distinguished figure in composition and music education in Chile, recalled that Guerrero's "cultural influence [was] at the root of all musical initiatives" in his youth, remarking that it was Guerrero who introduced Chileans to such moderns as Debussy, Ravel, Cyril Scott, Scriabin, and Schoenberg. Santa Cruz credits Guerrero and his brother with an active role in the founding in 1917 of the Sociedad Bach in Santiago.

Career as Pianist in South America

Guerrero's early solo recitals covered much of the big-scale virtuoso repertoire (Chopin, Liszt, Schumann) and elicited comments on his "stupendous brilliance" and "refined sensibility"; still in his mid-twenties, he was deemed a "master" and a "complete artist." He performed regularly in chamber recitals, especially with the Trio Penha. In October 1915 he embarked with the Trio's cellist, Michael Penha, on a ground-breaking tour of the main cities of Bolivia, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, and Cuba, arriving in New York in January 1916. Guerrero remained there until fall 1917, as a concert performer and studio accompanist to the Metropolitan Opera tenor Paul Althouse.

Returning to Chile, Guerrero filled engagements in various centres, including a three-recital series in the southern community of Punta Arenas. In June 1918 he appeared with an orchestra in Santiago's Teatro Municipal as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The concert was announced as "an expression of farewell to our eminent pianist Alberto García Guerrero," and a critic called it "one of the best that has been heard in Santiago."

Guerrero's Years in Canada

During his New York stay, through his fellow pianist Mark Hambourg, Guerrero had received an offer from Toronto to teach at the recently established Hambourg Conservatory, and to replace him in the Hambourg Trio. At 32, Guerrero accepted this position, and bid farewell to his native country and his well-established status in its musical life.

In his new base of Toronto, he performed for several seasons with the Hambourg Trio. At his first solo concert in Massey Hall, 2 Dec 1918, "the warmth of his reception was such as is accorded to but few visiting pianists." Among his first pupils were Reginald Stewart, later a well-known conductor, and Gerald Moore, later a prominent accompanist. With Guerrero's new life came a new emphasis on piano technique and pedagogy. At the same time, his performing repertoire assumed greater breadth, embracing keyboard works from Purcell through Les Six. In 1922 he resigned his Hambourg post in favor of an appointment at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (Royal Conservatory of Music), where he remained until his death, serving also on the performance staff of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, from the late 1940s. His pupils included William Aide, John Beckwith, Helmut Blume, Gwendolyn Duchemin, Ray Dudley, Dorothy Sandler Glick, Glenn Gould, his second wife Myrtle Rose Guerrero, Stuart Hamilton, Paul Helmer, Horace Lapp, Edward Laufer, Gordana Lazarevich, Pierrette LePage, Edward Magee, Ursula Malkin, Bruce Mather, John McIntyre, Gordon McLean, Oskar Morawetz, Arthur Ozolins, George Ross, R. Murray Schafer, Oleg Telizyn, Malcolm Troup, Neil Van Allen, and Ruth Watson Henderson.

He performed trio concerts with Frank Blachford, violin, and Leo Smith, cello, and later with Harold Sumberg, violin, and Cornelius Ysselstyn, cello, and was for more than a decade a member of the Five Piano Ensemble. He made several concerto appearances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and various radio orchestras. Starting in the pioneering days of Canadian radio in the mid-1920s, he gave many broadcast recitals from private stations in Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia, Schenectady, and New York, and over the CBC networks after their establishment in the 1930s. His last CBC recital was in 1952.

A unique venture was his subscription series of solo recitals, four or five each season 1932-3 through 1936-7, covering neglected keyboard repertoire by Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn, Mozart, the 18th-century Spanish school, and the 20th-century figures Satie, Debussy, Albéniz, and Stravinsky. The Bach items included the entire Inventions and Sinfonias and the "Goldberg" Variations, later repertoire staples of his outstanding pupil Glenn Gould. After an early 1930s recital, B.K. Sandwell noted Guerrero's "intense intellectual clarity" and "impeccable technique," and ranked him, especially with regard to the newer French music, "well up among the great concert pianists of the world."

Guerrero's Compositions

While Guerrero was recognized as a composer in Chile, this interest was largely dropped in his Canadian years. He produced a few short piano pieces (Tango and Southern Seas, both published by Harris, 1937, achieved considerable circulation) and collaborated with Myrtle Rose Guerrero on a two-volume beginners' manual, The New Approach to the Piano (Oakville, part 1 1935, part 2 1936).

Guerrero's Influence

In a quiet and concentrated fashion, Guerrero exerted wide influence on a couple of generations of pianists, composers and teachers. William Aide regards him as "the unsung progenitor of our nation's musical culture." Ray Dudley has recorded in detail his teaching procedures. A Toronto symposium in 1990 ("Remembering Alberto Guerrero: the next generation") attracted over 100 former pupils from many parts of the continent. In 2004 John Beckwith wrote the first researched account of his life and work. The faculty of music library of the University of Toronto has preserved most of his surviving original musical manuscripts and in 2002 acquired a collection of his papers and other memorabilia.


"The discrepancy between performance and technique," RCM Monthly bulletin, Oct 1950

Stage: Rucacahuiñ; El Copihue; Damas de Moda; Jefe de Familia; Mariposa (libretto to Damas de Moda, Santiago 1915; Libretto to Rucacahuin, Santiago, 1918; other libretti and scores all lost)

Chamber: Chants oubliés, vc, pf; Danse, vc, pf; Quintet, pf, st qt; Vals triste, vc, pf

Piano solo: Allegro; Andante; Con moto; Final; Tempo di vals; Tango; Southern Seas

Vocal: To Maud Allan (W. Bynner)

Further Reading