Celebrated Brazilian classical pianist Nelson Freire has died, aged 77

1 November 2021, 13:39 | Updated: 1 November 2021, 14:18

Great Brazilian classical pianist Nelson Freire has died, aged 77
Great Brazilian classical pianist Nelson Freire has died, aged 77. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Nelson Freire, acclaimed classical pianist and one of Brazil’s greatest artists, has been described as a “giant” of the music world.

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Acclaimed Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire has died aged 77, his record label Decca Classics has confirmed.

Freire, who is remembered as one of the greatest pianists of the second half of the 20th century, passed away during the night on Sunday 31 October, in Rio de Janeiro.

As a solo artist, Freire toured all over the world and recorded major works by Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy and Liszt – many with Decca Classics, with whom he recorded for over 20 years.

He was also a great collaborator, performing extensively and recording several duo albums with Argentine virtuoso Martha Argerich.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 | Nelson Freire, Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra & Kazuki Yamada

Born in 1944 in Boa Esperança in the south-east of Brazil, Freire grew up bathed in music, taking piano lessons with a teacher of one of Liszt’s former pupils.

At 13 years old, Freire won the International Piano Competition in Rio, performing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.

He later won a scholarship to study in Vienna, where he met virtuoso Martha Argerich – and so began one of the 20th century’s great musical relationships.

Freire went on to become a great exponent of Romantic piano music, recording remarkable renditions of works by Schumann and Brahms, as well as being one of the finest Chopin interpreters.

Freire is the subject of a documentary by director João Moreira Salles, whose 2003 film celebrating Freire’s relationship with music stars Argerich, and American dancer Fred Astaire.

Pianist Philippe Cassard told France Musique: “It’s the loss of a giant. He is one of those pianists who is like an anchor for the younger generation.”