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Nelson Freire (b1944)


Nelson Freire was a child prodigy: at three years of age he could play by ear what he heard his sister play. The local piano teacher rapidly became redundant so Freire’s parents, his father a pharmacist and his mother a schoolteacher, moved to Rio de Janeiro. Further sacrifices were made when the father had to take a job in a bank, but the problem with young Nelson was that his playing was already formed by the age of seven, so teachers found him difficult to train. Fortunately, he was presented to Lucia Branco, a pupil of the great Belgian pianist Arthur de Greef, himself a pupil of Liszt. Branco suggested that Freire should first learn with one of her own pupils Nise Obino, and it is to her that Freire claims he owes everything. Three months of intensive training with Obino prepared him for lessons with Branco, and he continued to study with both of them until the age of fourteen. From them he received a complete and thorough technical grounding; at one of his first lessons, when he was seven, he was shown three different touches: legato, staccato and a rippling style. Later he was to say of these early lessons, ‘There was no question for them of separating work on tone from finger practice, or music from technique. In fact, they founded their teaching on tone. Never force it, never produce a sound that is not harmonious.’ He gave many concerts at this time as a child prodigy and when he was twelve, Freire was asked to enter the first International Piano Competition in Rio de Janeiro; although most reference works state that he won

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