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."
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).
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.
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)
Author John Beckwith
Uzcátegui García, Emilio. Músicos chilenos contemporáneos (Santiago 1919)
Quiroga, Daniel. 'Los hermanos García Guerrero,' Revista musical chilena, vol 2, May 1946
Domingo Santa Cruz. "Mis recuerdos sobre la Sociedad Bach," Revista musical chilena, no. 40, Spring 1950-1
Beckwith, John. 'Alberto Guerrero, 1886-1959,' CMJ, vol 4, Winter 1960
- 'Shattering a few myths,' in John McGreevy, ed, Glenn Gould by Himself and His Friends, ed by John McGreevy (Toronto and Garden City, NY 1983), reprinted in John Beckwith: Music Papers: Articles and Talks by a Canadian Composer, 1961-1994 (Ottawa 1997)
- "Glenn Gould, the early years: addenda and corrigenda," GlennGould, Fall 1996
- "The Great Piano Teachers: Alberto Guerrero, 1886-1959," Piano, July/Aug 2001
- In Search of Alberto Guerrero, (Waterloo 2006)
Dudley, Ray. "Alberto Guerrero and Glenn Gould: my view," New Journal for Music, Summer 1990
Aide, William. Starting from Porcupine (Toronto 1996)
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Music Centre
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In Search of Alberto Guerrero
About “In Search of Alberto Guerrero,” a biography of the acclaimed Chilean-Canadian pianist and teacher. Features a book synopsis and excerpt, table of contents, and a profile of author John Beckwith. From Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
A profile of the prolific Chilean-Canadian pianist Alberto Guerrero. From White Pine Pictures.