Novaes, the seventeenth of nineteen children, was already playing the piano at the age of four. At seven she had lessons with Luigi Chiafarelli, a pupil of Busoni. At her debut, given when she was eleven, she played an extremely difficult work by Gottschalk, the Hymne national brésilien (Grande fantaisie triomphale) Op. 69, a sort of Lisztian paraphrase on the Brazilian national anthem. The Brazilian government gave her a grant to study in Europe and at Chiafarelli’s suggestion she went to the Paris Conservatoire to study with Isidor Philipp. Members of the jury for her entrance examination included Debussy, Fauré and Moszkowski for whom she played Schumann’s Carnaval Op. 9, Liszt’s ‘Paganini’ Étude in E major and Chopin’s Ballade in A flat Op. 47. Debussy said at the time, ‘She has all the right qualities for a great artist… the power of complete inner concentration which is the characteristic so rare in artists.’ After study with Philipp she won a premier prix from the Conservatoire when she was fifteen and this was a springboard for a touring career taking her to England, Italy, Germany and Switzerland.
World War I interrupted her touring so she returned to Brazil. From there, in 1915, Novaes travelled with her mother to North America, making her first New York appearance at Aeolian Hall. At this time her style, particularly her wide range of dynamics, was likened to that of Josef Hofmann and Ignacy Paderewski. In 1922 she married Octavio Pinto, a musician and composer who was an architect by profession. Novaes continued to give concerts and in 1949, a year before her husband’s death, she gave a famous recital in New York’s Town Hall. Composer Virgil Thompson wrote that she gave ‘…the most absorbing, as well as the most convincing rendition of Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata that this reviewer has ever heard’. That same year Novaes began her large series of recordings for Vox which occupied her for at least a decade. She continued to play and record and in 1972 gave her last New York recital at Hunter College.
A few years after her New York debut, Novaes made a series of acoustic discs for Victor between 1919 and 1923. They are mostly of encores by Moszkowski, Paderewski, MacDowell, Anton Rubinstein and her teacher Philipp. However there are also two impressive Liszt études and the Gottschalk work she played at age eleven. Paderewski’s Nocturne in B flat is given a mannered reading, inferior to that of the composer recorded by the same company two years later. The sound on these acoustic discs (as reissued on CD by Music & Arts) is remarkably good. On 8 April 1927 Novaes returned to the Victor studios for a single session where she made an electrical recording of Gottschalk’s Fantaisie and works by Albéniz, Ibert and Villa-Lobos plus a Godowsky arrangement of a song by Richard Strauss.
It was not until the early 1940s that Novaes returned to the recording studio. This time for American Columbia she recorded Couperin, Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Albéniz, Saint-Saëns and even some works by her husband. Major works of Chopin recorded at this time, including the Sonatas in B flat minor and B minor, were not issued until 1998. Also included in this release by Music & Arts is part of her New York Town Hall Concert in November 1949 where she plays the complete Préludes Op. 28 by Chopin. At the end of the 1940s Novaes began to record for Vox, who were eventually to release around twenty-five LPs, much of their contents having now been reissued on CD. Piano concerto recordings included Grieg, Falla and some Mozart with Hans Swarowsky, Chopin and Beethoven with Joel Perlea and, most importantly, her collaboration with Otto Klemperer in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 Op. 58, Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 Op. 21, and the Schumann Piano Concerto Op. 54. Solo works included Mozart sonatas and much Chopin, including both the mature sonatas, the complete nocturnes, waltzes, préludes and études, as well as delightful encores. A single LP for American Decca was made in 1963 and two more for Vanguard followed of Chopin and Beethoven. Her final recordings were made for Fermata in Brazil.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).