Mourning for a piano giant, 77

Mourning for a piano giant, 77


norman lebrecht

November 01, 2021

The great Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire died today after prolonged suffering, following injuries to his shoulder in a street fall two years ago. A close friend, the French writer Alain Lompech, was notified of the death by his household this morning.

Nelson was the lifelong best friend of Martha Argerich and himself a performer of the greatest subtlety and inwardness.

He shunned publicity, recorded copiously and never let an audience down. His companion Rosana Martins predeceased him last year.

Rosana introduced me to Nelson a few years ago at a London concert, where he was not playing. He had a charming smile and said almost nothing. He let the music do the talking and we all respected that.

We understand that he died last night in Rio de Janeiro.

The French pianist Philippe Cassard writes: ‘A giant has just left us. And everyone with him. A virtuoso with an incandescent velvet touch, great wildcat of the piano with devastating effect in Rachmaninov and Liszt, lyrical in Chopin, Beethoven and Brahms, luminous in Bach and Mozart. And what about the most extraordinary duo in history that he formed with 4 hands and 2 pianos with Martha Argerich? He was a kind, shy, humble man and away from the media noise. He will remain for a long time an example of musical and professional integrity raised to the highest point. All of us respect him, admire him, love him.’.

Born in Boa Esperança, Brazil, Nelson began piano lessons at the age of three with two former pupils of Liszt. He went to Vienna to study with Bruno Seidlhofer, Friedrich Gulda’s teacher, and began his solo career in 1959. He recorded extensively for Philips and Decca.



  • Minnesota says:

    Well, that is depressing. What a great artist Nelson Freire was. His memory really is a blessing. R.I.P.

  • Mischa MAISKY says:

    Totally devastating and shocking news…

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    A loss too soon. A remarkable legend. A brilliant musician and person. His lifelong journey is his legacy for us. Hope he is meeting all the great composers in Heavenly light. They are there embracing him.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    How very sad. I only really discovered him when he played for Valery Gergiev a few years ago and again at the RFH. He will be missed a truly nice man.

  • Robert says:

    A huge and devastating loss to the music world. Nelson was simply a spectacular pianist – he was one of the greats of our time, of any time.

  • Mikael says:

    Un pianiste exceptionnel tu vas nous manquer

  • We Brazilians, lost the greatest artist of our country. No words to describe our sadness.

  • Sanity says:

    Unspeakable sadness. A loss I can’t even put into words…

  • Tatiana Kunik says:

    What a loss… So sorry.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Great pianist.

  • Daniel Levenstein says:

    Very, very sad news. Nelson was a great musician and a wonderful person. He will be missed.

  • Malgorzata (Sinfonia Varsovia) says:


  • Paul Sekhri says:

    Such a tremendous loss. He was a consummate musician in every sense. May his memory be a blessing.

  • Carlos José Baboni says:

    Very sad for us brazilians. Muito triste para nós brasileiros.

  • Aura says:

    I grew up hearing to his performances .
    As his compatriot , mourning for him .

    Eternal rest grant him ,
    O Lord , and let perpetual light shine upon him .
    May he rest in peace .

    • Mighty Tort says:

      Hail Mary, full of Grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Genuinely awful news. Seventy-seven is no age these days. Thank you for your mastery.

  • G. Baratris says:

    Incredibly sad. The Rachmaninov second suite with Argerich is one of the true unassailable miracles of live performance. I’m glad they were able to spend time together before he passed.

  • E says:

    Thank you for posting music from this great span of time,
    1965 to 2017. He was grand.
    The video of the concerto…is
    sublime…One senses that all the good that is said of him is
    true. What a loss to music.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Very sad to hear this. Another tall tree falls.

  • Neil Yates says:

    He was a magnificent pianist! So sad to hear of his passing today. It is fortunate that he made many recordings. But no one should have to live with prolonged suffering at any age, let alone 77. “No man lives forever, dead men rise up never, and even the weariest river sinks somewhere safe to sea.” God bless him!

  • David A says:

    What a tragic loss….Martha must be devastated as well..

  • Erico says:

    A very sad day for us, brazilians. Thanks, Maestro Nelson Freire. May you find Guiomar Novaes in Heaven. You were our greatest pianists of all time. Rest in Peace.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    He was an amazing pianist. A great loss.

  • amazonian says:

    The footage with Martha Argerich is taken from the doc film João Moreira Salles made about Freire.
    Martha and Nelson were the closest of friends since they met in Vienna long ago, as Bruno Seidlhofer pupils.
    Two teen-age South Americans far from home, alone for the first time, discovering musical affinities…in the film, they talk about how they developed their friendship in those early years.
    Martha was at his side in the last days. Their closeness and love transpires in the gentle banter in the film scenes, while practicing and trying a new piece. They even had their own brand of the hybrid Portuguese-Spanish language we Brazilians and our Hispanic neighbours mostly use to communicate.


    Why don’t tell us the real motivation of his death? Friends are saying was suicide.

  • Valerie says:

    What a immense loss…He was a giant as an artist, teacher and as a beautiful human being. Perfectionist and incredibly precise, with a sort of musical intelligence beyond any expectation…He well be so very missed and his recordings will extend his musical light and personal charm. Rest In Peace, blessed Soul.❤

  • M. NEPOMUCENO says:

    Nelson Freire was simply fantastic, brought love and passion in everyone for classic music. Will be forever missed! I wish he would be eternal.

  • Such sad news indeed. Mr Freire was a true poet of the piano, and if I may mention just one of the many superb recordings he made, namely that of the Schumann Piano Concerto (1968), in which his collaborators were the Munich Philharmonic conducted by the great Rudolf Kempe. Has there ever been a more beautiful rendition of Schumann’s masterpiece? Somehow I doubt so. I think history will judge Mr Freire to have been one of the absolute greats!

  • Mary. Rozenbaum says:

    Ele era um virtuoso no piano. Tocava divinamente!!

  • Robert Fuchs says:

    Nelson and I, we were lifelong friends. I met him first time when he was 10 years old, and I was 14. Also being a pianist, our friendship developed into a mutual admiration and respect. Due to many factors, I could not pursue the artistic career, and I became a quite successful architect. However, every time Nelson and I met, he asked me to play for him. It was an honor, and I complied gladly. He was timid, humble and quiet. I lost a very dear friend, the world lost a genius. R.I.P.

  • DeAnna Howe says:

    A true loss for the entire music world….