World’s oldest recording pianist, the inspiring Colette Maze, dies aged 109

28 November 2023, 14:23

Colette Maze, who became the oldest pianist to record an album aged 108, has died at the age of 109.
Colette Maze, who became the oldest pianist to record an album aged 108, has died at the age of 109. Picture: Alamy

By Siena Linton

The age-defying musician, who studied with Nadia Boulanger and became the oldest pianist to record an album in 2021, has died at the age of 109 in Paris.

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Colette Maze, the inspirational pianist and social media sensation, has died in Paris at the age of 109.

Maze’s death was announced via a social media post on 21 November, which said: “Our little ray of sunshine, Colette’s light was extinguished on Sunday, at her home, with the music of Debussy, surrounded by love and by her family.”

With a love for piano and music spanning more than a century, Colette Maze’s long career and late-blooming international fame acted to prove that age was no barrier to reaching musical goals.

Maze was born on 16 June 1914 in Paris, just a few weeks before the outbreak of the First World War. Surrounded by music as a child, Maze grew up in a household that included a piano-playing grandmother and violinist mother, who would both give concerts at home.

Her first tentative steps into music herself came as a very young child. She would hear children playing piano in the apartment above her own, and reproduce the melody herself, with just one finger on her family’s own piano.

Maze began piano lessons at age five, and at 15 began studying at the École Normale de Musique. Her teachers there were none other than the legendary tutor to some of classical music’s greatest stars, Nadia Boulanger, as well as the school’s founder, Alfred Cortot.

Read more: Meet Nadia Boulanger, the inspiring woman behind the 20th century’s greatest composers

108-year-old pianist Colette Maze plays at home in Paris

With such a rich musical beginning to life, Maze harboured dreams of becoming a concert pianist – but it wasn’t yet to be.

Instead, she qualified as a music teacher, moving into an apartment on the 14th floor of a building overlooking the River Seine in Paris. She brought with her the Pleyel piano she had received for her 18th birthday, and which would be her great companion for the remaining 91 years of her life.

Maze loved Debussy’s music in particular, with a soft spot for Robert and Clara Schumann too. She would play the piano every day, for four hours in total, to keep her memory sharp.

Read more: Watch inspiring 107-year-old pianist Colette Maze, who has played for more than a century

When Maze was in her 90s, her son, Fabrice, began to encourage her to record her playing. One of the last surviving pupils of Alfred Cortot, he felt it was important that this legacy remain for years to come.

Maze took his advice, and released her first album at the age of 90 – the full first book of Debussy’s Preludes.

More albums were to follow, including a 2021 recording celebrating Un Siècle avec Debussy (A Century with Debussy) after her favourite composer, and most recently 109 Years of Piano, released in June 2023.

Read more: Remarkable 108-year-old virtuoso Colette Maze becomes oldest-ever pianist to release an album

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In February 2020, when Maze was 105, she began to share her musical adventures on social media, with a Facebook page to share videos of her playing, alongside her enthusiasm for music, life, colourful fashion, and food and drink with her followers.

Through all that she shared with the world, Maze’s bubbly personality and sharp wit shone through, from humorous one-liners in interviews and videos to fun-loving photos.

Her piano-playing has reached millions on social media, ensuring that her deep love for music and infectious joie de vivre will live on, even beyond her own remarkable age.