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Brazilian Pianist Nelson Freire Has Died Aged 77

Nelson Freire, one of the leading pianists of his generation, has died aged 77. His extensive discography was distinguished by numerous awards.

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Nelson Freire photo
Pianist Nelson Freire. Photo: Decca Classics/Gregory Favre

Nelson Freire, one of the leading pianists of his generation, died on 31 October 2021, aged 77, at his home in Rio de Janeiro. He was widely considered Brazil’s greatest pianist and was particularly noted for his performances of Chopin and Romantic repertoire.

Chopin: Nocturne No.2 in E flat, Op.9 No.2

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Nelson Freire was born in 1944 and began piano lessons at the age of three with Nise Obino and Lucia Branco, a former student of Arthur de Greef, a pupil of Liszt. He made his first public appearance at the age of five performing Mozart’s Sonata in A, K. 331. In 1957, after winning a grant at the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition with his performance of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, Nelson Freire went to Vienna to study with Bruno Seidlhofer, teacher of Friedrich Gulda. Seven years later he won the Dinu Lipatti Medal in London and first prize at the International Vianna da Motta Competition in Lisbon.

Since his international career began in 1959 Nelson Freire appeared at virtually every important musical centre, in recital and working with countless distinguished conductors and orchestras. He was a great musical collaborator and toured extensively with his lifelong friend Martha Argerich. They recorded several albums together including a live recital from the Salzburg Festival.

His discography was distinguished by numerous awards

Nelson Freire began recording exclusively for Decca Classics in 2001 and his releases include major works by Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, Liszt, as well as the two Brahms Concertos with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly. His extensive discography was distinguished by numerous awards including Gramophone Record of the Year in 2007 for Brahms: The Piano Concertos and the Latin Grammy for Best Classical Recording in 2013 for Brasileiro. In 2019 he recorded a 75th birthday album, Encores, which celebrated his life with a very personal collection of favourites, reaching all the way back to his first lessons with another legendary Brazilian pianist, Guiomar Novaes.

Nelson Freire received three Grammy Award nominations – in 2005 his recording of Chopin: Études, Op. 10, Barcarolle, Op. 60, Sonata No.2 was nominated for Best Instrumental Performance (without orchestra); in 2006 his recording of Brahms: The Piano Concertos was nominated for Best Instrumental Performance (with orchestra); and in 2010 Chopin: The Nocturnes was also nominated for Best Instrumental Performance (without orchestra).

In 2007 Nelson Freire was appointed a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and in January 2011 he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion de’Honneur, the French government’s highest award to a foreigner.

In 2019 Nelson Freire broke his arm in a fall and never played publicly again, firstly due to the need for surgery and then because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“He was one of the greats and truly irreplaceable”

Dominic Fyfe, Decca Classics’ Label Director, was Nelson Freire’s recording producer from 2002. He noted, “Nelson was the consummate recording artist. He was more meticulously prepared for the studio than almost any artist I have encountered and his recordings among the least edited. Paradoxically he claimed never to listen to his own recordings but he knew when his performance matched his exacting standards and he placed his trust in our hands to capture this. We will miss him not just for his extraordinary artistry but also for his friendship, his humour, his humility. He was one of the greats and truly irreplaceable”.

Listen to The Art of Nelson Freire on streaming platforms.

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