Maria João Pires

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Maria João Pires (2009)

Maria João Pires (Portuguese: [mɐˈɾiɐ ʒwɐ̃ũ̯ ˈpiɾɨʃ]; born in Lisbon, Portugal, 23 July 1944) is a Portuguese pianist.

Musical studies[edit]

Her first recital was at the age of five, and at the age of seven she was already playing Mozart piano concertos publicly. Two years later she received Portugal's top prize for young musicians. In the following years, she studied with Campos Coelho at the Lisbon Conservatory, taking courses in composition, theory, and history of music. She continued her studies in Germany, first in the Musikakademie of Munich with Rosl Schmidt and then in Hanover with Karl Engel.

Professional career[edit]

International fame came in 1970, when she won the Beethoven Bicentennial Competition in Brussels. Subsequently she performed with major orchestras in Europe, America, Canada, Israel and Japan, interpreting works by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin and other classical and romantic composers.

Her professionalism achieved worldwide recognition when a film (from 1999) was drawn to the attention of the press and went viral in 2013. At the start of a lunchtime concert in Amsterdam, she realised that she had rehearsed for a different Mozart concerto from the one the orchestra had started playing; quickly recovering, she played the concerto from memory.[1]

Pires performed at the BBC Proms in 2010. In an interview beforehand, she said that after 60 years of recitals and concerts she had cut back her performances but was non-committal about retirement.[2]

Since September 2012, she has been a "Master in residence" at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel (Waterloo, Belgium), where she teaches piano to young talented pianists from all over the world.


Pires performs as a solo artist and in chamber music. Her many successful recordings include performances of the "Moonlight" sonata and other Sonatas by Beethoven, Le Voyage Magnifique (the complete Impromptus of Schubert), Nocturnes and other works by Chopin, and Mozart Trios with Augustin Dumay (violin) and Jian Wang (cello).

She won the Pessoa Prize in 1989, and founded the Belgais Centre for Study of the Arts in 1999.[3]

Gramophone selected her recordings of the Chopin nocturnes as the best version available: "I have no hesitation in declaring Maria João Pires—a pianist without a trace of narcissism—among the most eloquent master-musicians of our time." (Bryce Morrison).[4]

One of her acclaimed recordings is "Mozart: The Piano Sonatas". According to the Penguin Guide, "Maria João Pires is a stylist and a fine Mozartian. She is always refined yet never wanting in classical feeling, and she has a vital imagination. She strikes an ideal balance between poise and expressive sensibility, conveying a sense of spontaneity in everything she does."

Partial Discography[edit]

Beethoven: Piano Concertos 3 & 4 (2014, Onyx Classics)

Mozart: Piano Concertos 14, 17, 21, & 26 (2013, Deutsche Grammophon )

Schubert (2013, Deutsche Grammophon)

Chopin (2008, Deutsche Grammophon)

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas (2001, Erato )

Schumann: Piano Concerto, Piano Quintet (2000, Deutsche Grammophon)

Chopin: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 (1999, Erato)

Franck, Debussy: Violin Sonatas; Ravel: Berceuse; Habanera; Tzigane (1996, Deutsche Grammophon)

Mozart: Piano Sonatas K.281, K.282, K.533/K.494 (1993, Deutsche Grammophon)

Mozart: Piano Sonatas K.331 & 457; Fantasias K.397 & 475 (1990, Deutsche Grammophon)

Schubert: Sonata; 6 Moments Musicaux; 2 Scherzi (1989, Deutsche Grammophon)

Mozart: The Great Concertos for Piano (1978, Erato)

Move to Brazil[edit]

In 2006 she moved to Lauro de Freitas—a town near Salvador, Brazil—and continued performing. At the time of her move, she commented that she had suffered much adverse publicity in Portugal due to her Belgais Centre project to help tackle the significant problem of underprivileged children, a project that the Portuguese Government helped to fund but publicly shied away from.[5] The centre continued to operate at her farm in Portugal[3] and she subsequently started similar projects in Brazil.[2]


  1. ^ "When Maria João Pires almost played the wrong piano concerto". Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Maria João Pires: I never said I would retire". London Evening Standard. 21 July 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Why I turned my back on my homeland". The Telegraph. 12 April 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Gramophone Recommended Recordings
  5. ^ Maria João Pires troca Belgais por nova vida no Brasil, article in Portuguese in Público