Maria Tipo studied the piano with her mother Ersilla Cavallo (a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni) and played in public for the first time at the age of four. She continued her studies with Alfredo Casella and Guido Agosti and by the age of seventeen won second prize at the Geneva International Piano Competition in a year when no first prize was awarded. The following year she returned to Geneva and carried off the first prize, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major Op. 58 in a performance conducted by Ernest Ansermet. It was at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels that she was noticed by jury member Arthur Rubinstein. He helped her establish a career in America where she toured annually for twelve years after her debut there. Tipo also toured throughout Europe, Central and South America, Africa, Russia, Japan and the Middle East, playing with many of the world’s great orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, London Philharmonic, London Symphony, Concertgebouw, Orchestre de Paris, Salzburg Mozarteum and the Czech Philharmonic. In addition to many chamber music performances with the Amadeus Quartet and violinist Salvatore Accardo, Tipo has served on the jury of many of the world’s piano competitions.
Towards the end of the 1960s Tipo reduced her public appearances in order to concentrate on teaching at the conservatories of Florence, Bolzano and Geneva. During the 1980s she began to record for EMI in France and in 1991 she returned to New York to give a recital at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to becoming a Member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Tipo was recently nominated Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.
Tipo is known for her performances of Italian keyboard music, primarily by Scarlatti and Clementi, and also for her playing of Bach and Mozart.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Tipo recorded a fair amount of material for French EMI. A Schumann recital includes a performance of Kinderszenen Op. 15 which suffers from halting rubato, making the whole work protracted and somewhat mannered. The same approach to Bach, where Tipo uses a whole palette of colours and dynamic effects, sounds at best mellifluous, at worst indulgent. She has recorded Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations BWV 988, his complete partitas, a disc including the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue BWV 903 and Italian Concerto BWV 971, but her style is far better suited to Bach–Busoni, a disc of which she recorded in 1988. Other recordings include three Beethoven piano sonatas, Chopin’s complete nocturnes, Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 4 with Hans Graf and the London Symphony Orchestra recorded at Abbey Road in 1989, and some Mozart Piano Concertos: K. 271 and K. 246 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Riccardo Chailly, and K. 488 and K. 595 with the Ensemble Orchestre de Paris and Armin Jordan. Tipo’s best discs are those of sonatas by Scarlatti and Clementi. The eighteen Scarlatti sonatas recorded in 1987 are particularly good, with Tipo’s wayward rhythm much more under control and her variety of colour and tone breathing life into these small masterpieces. Her EMI recording of four Clementi sonatas from 1992 is not preferable to earlier recordings of this music which she made for Fonit Cetra in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was the first pianist to record Clementi’s complete sonatas, and these have been reissued on compact discs by Warner. There is an interesting disc of a live recital given in 1979 and issued by Ermitage. Her performance of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 109 far surpasses her studio recording of 1986 and it is fascinating to hear her in Chopin’s four ballades where she sounds far less restrained, allowing the music to take flight. Tipo’s early recordings for Vox, of twelve Scarlatti sonatas and Mozart’s Piano Concertos in C major K. 467 and K. 503 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Jonel Perlea, have also been reissued on compact disc.