Maria João Pires

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Maria João Pires
Maria João Pires playing the piano in 2009
Maria João Pires playing the piano in 2009
Background information
Birth nameMaria João Alexandre Barbosa Pires
Born (1944-07-23) July 23, 1944 (age 79)
Lisbon, Portugal
GenresClassical Music
LabelsDeutsche Grammophon/Universal Classics

Maria João Alexandre Barbosa Pires (Portuguese: [mɐˈɾi.ɐ ʒwɐ̃w ˈpiɾɨʃ]; born 23 July 1944) is a Portuguese classical pianist, widely regarded as one of the leading interpreters of the repertoire of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Early life and education[edit]

Pires was born in Lisbon, Portugal, a posthumous daughter of João Baptista Pires and his wife Alzira dos Santos Alexandre Barbosa. She has three siblings: Hugo Alexandre Barbosa Pires, Maria Regina Alexandre Barbosa Pires and Maria Helena Alexandre Barbosa Pires.

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 Schmid and then in Hanover with Karl Engel.[1]


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 correct concerto from memory.[2]

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.[3]

From 2012 to 2016, she was a Master in Residence at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Waterloo, Belgium, where she gave piano lessons and master classes to young talented pianists from all over the world. To foster young musicians, she launched the Partitura Project.

In 2017, she announced her retirement from the stage and tours for 2018, but she continued giving concerts.[4]

On February 20, 2019, she was awarded with a Doctorate Honorary Degree by Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona.[5]


Pires performs as a solo artist and in chamber music. Her many successful recordings include performances of the Moonlight 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.[6]

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).[7]

Another 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."[8]

Partial discography[edit]

  • Bach’s Partita no. 1, French Suite no. 2 and English Suite no. 3 (1996, Deutsche Grammophonn), receipient of Grand Prix du Disque
  • Chopin, Schubert, Mozart etc.: Complete Concerto Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon 2014
  • Chopin, Schubert, Mozart etc.: Complete Solo Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon 2014
  • Mozart: Lieder and Arias [Accompanist to Barbara Hendricks] [EMI]
  • Mozart: Piano Sonatas Complete (Denon)
  • Beethoven: Piano Concertos 3 & 4 (2014, Onyx Classics)
  • Mozart; Fantasies KV 397-KV475, Rondos KV485-KV511 (Denon BB-7009) 1974
  • 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)
  • Chopin: Nocturnes (1996, Deutsche Grammophon), Record Academy Prize, Tokyo and Grand Prix du Disque
  • 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.[9] The centre continued to operate at her farm in Portugal[6] and she subsequently started similar projects in Brazil.[3]

In 2017, she moved back to Belgais, in Portugal.

Social engagement[edit]

"It is in response to this issue that Maria João Pires launched the Partitura project. It is all about creating favourable circumstances for transmission by encouraging reciprocal listening between generations: inciting well-known musicians to foster young musicians and to invite them (as the name suggests) to share the concert platform".[10]

Honours and awards[edit]




  1. ^ "Artists: Maria João Pires". Askonas Holt. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  2. ^ "When Maria João Pires almost played the wrong piano concerto". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Maria João Pires: I never said I would retire". London Evening Standard. 21 July 2010. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Maria João Pires abandona digressões mas mantém alguns concertos em 2018", Lusa News Agency via Observador, 18 December 2017 (in Portuguese)
  5. ^ a b "Maria João Pires, investida doctora honoris causa per la UPF - Sobre la Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF)". Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  6. ^ a b "Why I turned my back on my homeland". The Telegraph. 12 April 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  7. ^ Gramophone Recommended Recordings
  8. ^ "Opera Musica". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  9. ^ Maria João Pires troca Belgais por nova vida no Brasil Archived 2007-05-05 at the Wayback Machine, article in Portuguese in Público
  10. ^ Partitura Music Chape Maria João Pires
  11. ^ a b c d "Cidadãos Nacionais Agraciados com Ordens Portuguesas". Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  12. ^ "Maria Joao Pires Biography". Deutsche Grammophon. Retrieved February 19, 2024.


External links[edit]