“The most dazzling meteor that shot across the pianistic sky the past season was the young Brazilian pianist Guiomar Novães…The marvel of it! Hers is surely a gift straight out of Heaven!”
Those words in praise of Novães, a native of Sao Paolo, appeared in 1916, when the pianist was 21…and already a seasoned pro. Novaes was literally raised at the piano bench: “Sometimes it seems I learned to play before I learned to speak,” she said, adding. “I knew my notes before I had mastered the letters of the alphabet.” Recognizing her talent, the Brazilian government arranged for her to audition for the Paris Conservatory. Think it’s hard to get into Harvard? The conservatory had just two openings for foreign students – and 387 applicants. Think it’s hard to get past the jury on American Idol? Novaes auditioned in front of Claude Debussy, Gabriel Faure, and Moritz Moskowski. What got her in? A program that included Chopin’s Ballade No. 3.
Debussy, who revered Chopin, wrote his amazement about “the little Brazilian girl who came to the platform and, forgetting about public and jury, played with tremendous beauty and complete absorption.” Which pretty much set the tone for Guiomar Novaes’ illustrious career.
She would go on to be called “A musician by the grace of God,” “The young genius of the piano,” and even “The Paderewska of the Pampas” – the latter by Chopin biographer James Huneker, showing more musical discernment than knowledge of geography. She was especially noted for her performances of Chopin, Schumann, and her old Paris examiner Debussy.
What sets her Chopin apart? In his Piano Examiner blog, Leonard Bogat praises her Chopin for its “exquisite counterpoint,” and “In the end one feels that one has heard the inner meaning of some of this music for the first time.” Another critic sums up her Etudes: “Tears to my eyes; notes and nuances I never knew.”
Guiomar Novães: A great, heaven-sent Chopinist. - Frank Dominguez