Novaës, Guiomar (1895–1979)

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Novaës, Guiomar (1895–1979)

Brazilian pianist who dominated the American and European concert stage with her Romantic performances. Name variations: Guiomar Novaes; "Paderewska of the Pampas." Born into a family of 19 children in Sao Joao da Boa Vista, Brazil, on February 28, 1895; died in Sao Paulo on March 7, 1979; daughter of Manoel da Cruz and Anna (De Menezes) Novaës; studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Isidor Philipp; married Octavio Pinto (1890–1950, Brazilian composer and architectural engineer), in December 1922; children: Anna Maria Pinto (a vocalist); Luiz Octavio Pinto (an engineer).

Guiomar Novaës began playing piano at age four. Until she was 14, her teacher was Luigi Chiafarelli in Sao Paulo. Because of her obvious talent, the Brazilian government sent her to France for further study in 1909; Novaës was awarded first place among 389 applicants to the Paris Conservatoire. She had stunned a jury consisting of Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré and Moritz Moszkowski with her playing of, among other pieces, Schumann's Carnaval and Chopin's A-flat Ballade. Novaës then studied with Isidor Philipp, who further developed her prodigious talent. She gave her Paris debut recital six months before formally graduating from the Conservatoire in July 1911. Along with her diploma, she received a premier prix award. Her 1912 London debut was a triumph.

In 1915, Novaës arrived in New York and took the town by storm. After her fourth New York recital, she was heralded as "one of the seven wonders of the musical world." Normally tough New York critics searched for superlatives to describe the exquisite artistry of the young Brazilian. In the New York Sun, W.J. Henderson asserted that "only Paderewski or Hofmann could have equalled her." Veteran critic James Huneker pronounced her "the Paderewska of the Pampas." Although essentially a musician of the Romantic school, Novaës was not a monumental performer. She only performed works she strongly believed in and felt personally close to, avoiding works not suited to her temperament. For decades, Novaës was identified with the works of Chopin and Schumann, and with the more lyrical works of Beethoven. Whatever music she touched was turned into poetry. Her Chopin recitals were sold out weeks in advance.

Her last New York recital, in Avery Fisher Hall in 1967, was an emotion-laden event. Appearing as aristocratic as ever, Novaës performed with a nonchalant dignity that at the end brought some in the audience to tears. The program contained standard fare, Beethoven's Waldstein sonata and Chopin's Funeral March sonata, but her last encore took her audience back to the heyday of colorful Romanticism, for she played the musically mediocre but pianistically breathtaking Fantasy on the Brazilian National Hymn by the 19th-century American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Novaës' farewell to New York was an exercise in pyrotechnics, and it brought the audience to its feet.

Novaës made many recordings over the decades, but only a few of these fully captured her subtle art. Among the best were her readings of the Chopin Mazurkas, the Debussy Preludes, and selections from Mendelssohn's Songs without Words. For her 1950s recordings for the Vox record label, she was praised for her stylish performances of the works of Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann. Her recording of the Moonlight Sonata was described as caressing the music "lovingly and thoughtfully." Her reading of the Beethoven Sonata Op. 31, no. 2 had her giving "the drama and poetry of the music full value in a searching interpretation." Novaës received many awards from the Brazilian government for her efforts to promote music in Brazil and enhance Pan-American cultural exchanges.


De Motte, Warren. The Long Playing Record Guide. NY: Dell, 1955.

Doyle, John G. "Novaes [Pinto], Guiomar," in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 13, p. 432.

Dubal, David. The Art of the Piano. NY: Summit Books, 1989.

Schonberg, Harold C. The Great Pianists. Rev. ed. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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