Her first recital was at the age of five, and at the age of seven she was already playing Mozart piano concertos publicly. Two years later she received Portugal's top prize for young musicians. In the following years, she studied with Campos Coelho at the Lisbon Conservatory, taking courses in composition, theory, and history of music. She continued her studies in Germany, first in the Musikakademie
of Munich with Rosl Schmidt and then in Hanover with Karl Engel.
International fame came in 1970, when she won the Beethoven Bicentennial Competition in Brussels. She has since then regularly performed with major orchestras throughout the world, interpreting works by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin and many other classical and romantic composers. She appears regularly with major world orchestras in Europe, America, Canada, Israel and Japan.
She appears as a solo artist and in chamber music: her many successful recordings include Moonlight
, featuring Beethoven sonatas, Le Voyage Magnifique
, the complete Impromptus of Schubert, Nocturnes and other works by Chopin, and Mozart Trios with Augustin Dumay (violin) and Jian Wang (cello).She won the Pessoa Prize in 1989. She also founded the Belgais Centre for Study of the Arts.Gramophone
selected her recordings of the Chopin nocturnes as the best version available: "I have no hesitation in declaring Maria João Pires—a pianist without a trace of narcissism—among the most eloquent master-musicians of our time" (Bryce Morrison).One of her acclaimed recordings is "Mozart: The Piano Sonatas". According to the Penguin Guide: "Maria João Pires is a stylist and a fine Mozartian. She is always refined yet never wanting in classical feeling, and she has a vital imagination. She strikes an ideal balance between poise and expressive sensibility, conveying a sense of spontaneity in everything she does".
Move to Brazil
In 2006 she moved to Lauro de Freitas—a town near Salvador, Brazil—and continues performing. At the time of her move, she commented that she had suffered much in Portugal due to her Belgais Centre project.