1879–1962

Carmela Mackenna

Carmela Mackenna was a Chilean woman composer who wrote a wide variety of works, including solo piano pieces, chamber music, choral music, orchestral music, and songs. She belonged to an aristocratic family, and thus received training in music and foreign languages. Mackenna married a diplomat, so her life involved traveling to many different countries in South America and Europe. In 1926, she and her husband arrived in Berlin, Germany, where Mackenna studied privately with pianist and composer Conrad Ansorge and musicologist Hans Mersmann. Mackenna’s music achieved critical renown when, in 1936, she won second place in a Frankfurt competition for sacred music with her Mass for Mixed Chorus a Cappella.

Mackenna’s output for voice and piano is vibrant and inventive, and it engages with different languages and musical styles. For example, her cycle of four songs, titled Lieder, recalls the folk-like songs of Schubert, while songs such as her Zwei Gesänge sound more expressionist, with greater tonal freedom and chromaticism and more independent piano parts. She set German, Spanish, English, Latin, and French texts, using poetry by Pablo Neruda, Paul Verlaine, and many other authors. 

Although the music of Carmela Mackenna has not been thoroughly studied, younger generations of performers and scholars have shown a growing interest in her life and work. Her songs had never been recorded professionally until I created these recordings with soprano Camille Ortiz and bass-baritone Craig Phillips (engineered by Joseph Wenda). I hope that more musicians start to include her wonderful repertoire in lessons, concerts, research projects, and music curricula.

—Written by Camila Osses

Additional Resources

  • Bustos Valderrama, Raquel. “Carmela Mackenna Subercaseaux.” Revista Musical Chilena 38/159 (1983): 50–75. [in Spanish]
  • Bustos Valderrama, Raquel. “Mackenna (Subercaseaux), Carmela.” Grove Music Online, edited by Deane Root.

Did you know?

Carmela Mackenna was the first composer to set the poetry of Pablo Neruda to music (in her “Poema de Amor” from 1930).

Video Recordings

Soprano Camille Ortiz and pianist Camila Osses perform Carmela Mackenna's "Poema de Amor" (1930). This is the first professional recording of this song.
Soprano Camille Ortiz and pianist Camila Osses perform Carmela Mackenna's "Canto de Cuna" (1933). This is the first professional recording of this song.
Bass-baritone Craig Phillips and pianist Camila Osses perform Carmela Mackenna's "Der Knabe," from Zwei Gesänge (1935). This is the first professional recording of this song.
Bass-baritone Craig Phillips and pianist Camila Osses perform Carmela Mackenna's "Die Frau," from Zwei Gesänge (1935). This is the first professional recording of this song.

Accessing Scores

Many of Carmela Mackenna’s scores are accessible in digital form via the Chilean National Library. Several others are available via Cayambis Music Press. Camila Osses is working on a modern performance edition of Mackenna’s songs; for more information, you can contact Osses at camilaa.osses.s@gmail.com.

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