Guiomar Novaes

Richard Smith, Piano, 1963


Two articles published in 1922 in Klaxon magazine; rescued in the collection “I still drink in the glass of others”

romantic pianist

The great and young piano school in São Paulo has already produced two admirable artists who we can, without fear, place on the same level as any current foreign virtuoso: Mrs. Rudge Miller and Miss Guiomar Novaes.

Pleasant and easy would be a parallel between the two. Nothing less laborious than highlighting the violent antithesis that exists between them. One: severe character, classic type, we would say cerebral; and, for all these dominant qualities, an exact interpreter of the classics or the post-romantics. Another: romantic pianist in the most total meaning of the term, impressionable vibrancy at the finest change of sensation.

Unfortunately Antonieta Rudge Miller was unable to continue as a representative of our artistic possibilities abroad. But unfortunately, it is not heard here yet. Great pity! The extraordinary interpreter, with the continuation of her concerts, would be of effective benefit for the development of the musical spirit of São Paulo.

We are still in full sound romanticism; and Chopin is the ideal hiccup for all our pioneers. Mrs. Rudge Miller would be the only possible master of that auditorium; able to impose Debussy and Ravel on him – musicians who already represent a past in Europe and who are still barely perceived by our ignorant people.

Guiomar Novaes – certainly greater as a genius – does not fill this gap. Already a universal artist, he cannot remain immobilized in this artistic North Pole that is Brazil; and, characteristically romantic, would not effectively play this role of the teacher who educates.

I insist on calling Miss Novaes a romantic pianist.

Combarieu, looking in musical Italy for the influxes of German, Slavic and French romanticism, highlights the figure of Paganini, whom he calls: “romantic violinist”. But, for me, what induced the famous historian to this classification was much more the memory of the life of the demonic genius than the spirit of his work and his expressive means. The great Italian, after all, does nothing more than continue, on the violin, the traditions of bel-canto, already denatured by the decadence of the Neapolitan school.

Paganini transfers to his instrument, perhaps exaggerating (and this is really romanticism) the sumptuous virtuosity of students from Caffaro or Porpora. Liszt himself, young, with listening to Paganini, transforms only his piano technique. It was Chopin, and especially Berlioz who gave the author of Mazeppa the spiritual address of romanticism.

Guiomar Novaes fits, with much more accuracy, the epithet of “romantic pianist”. She embodies, even from the point of view of the sometimes bewildering freedom with which she observes herself (in the Prelude, Choral and Fugue, in Carnival, in Minstrels, in Scarlatt) all the aesthesia of romanticism.

There is no room for a general explanation of what I understand by romanticism. Elastic words these: classicism and romanticism! It is my duty, however, to explain why I consider Senhora Novaes to be a romantic pianist.

First of all: it is not necessary to prove the decisive sympathy she has for romantic composers. Chopin, Schumann and Liszt form the core of its programmes. Even more: in these musicians the great interpreter feels at ease. She is always wonderful, always perfect. The same does not happen when she performs classics or modern. I speak of those who are spiritually modern. Undoubtedly, these Guiomar Novaes are always interesting. No matter how much your interpretation contrasts with the spirit of an author or a passage, it is always interesting, attracts and enchants. But it doesn't move or excite like when he performs the barcarole or Leprechaun Dance. To that prodigy of grace which is the Pastoral of Scarlatti, for example, she manages to give a perfect dynamism, but not a complete interpretation. It lacks the sense of balance and measure that the romantics gave an elasticity incompatible with the dancing and formal spirit of the XNUMXth century.

The same happens with the mysticism of César Franck. Guiomar Novaes, I am sure, would brilliantly interpret Liszt's religious passages; but no Prelude, chorale and fugue it's not perfect. Between the mysticism of abbot Liszt and Franck's mysticism there is a complete distinction that perfectly explains the romanticism of our great artist. Liszt is a religionist of the senses. Franck, an intellectual Catholic. Liszt suffers and prays. Franck thinks and preaches. I don't think that for that reason it can be said that Liszt is more human; but we can verify that he is more feeling, or better: more senses. The very fine sensitivity of Guiomar Novaes, her passionate impetuosity lead her to better realize the same impetuosity, the same pain without control that romantic mysticism accomplished.

And what I say about mysticism, I could gloss over all other passions.

In the end, all artists (with the exception of those who, through a fruitless prejudice, sought to stifle their own egos), some more discreet, others more outspoken, all artists expressed their sensibility and made their works reflect the passing circumstances in which Bach, Beethoven, Verdi and Schumann, expressed, first of all, their way of feeling. The affinity between Guiomar Novaes and the romantics does not lie in their seeking to express their sensibilities. It's more subtle than that. The romantics, given over to the delirium of living by the senses, translated, more than the inner self itself, an I of senses, if I can explain myself that way, an I free of control. I see in them an all-sensual, all-external fulfillment. For these artists of 1830, the judgment of intelligence, in the creation of a work of art, was carried out solely from the point of view of formal beauty.

Miss Novaes presents, whether interpreting Scarlatti or Rachmaninoff, the same romantic tendencies that I demonstrated above. And, although admirable in a Scriabine study, although attractive in a Bach fugue, it is always in Schumann, Liszt and especially Chopin that it reaches its greatest force of expression. That is why, before studying her in more detail as a performer and virtuoso (which I will do in a second article), I insisted on proclaiming Miss Guiomar Novaes a romantic pianist.

[Published in the magazine Horn no. 2, June 15, 1922]


the virtuoso

Miss Guiomar Novaes is not perfect as a coach. By the way, I believe that perfection is not of this world… Also: Friedmann, for example, of phenomenal technical ability, as a performer was inferior: He dazzled the fools of São Paulo by attacking a Chopin study at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour. They do not notice that this rush not only contravened the progress of the pathos of the section, as it did not allow the executor to perform the necessary dynamics… A lot of brightness, machine accuracy; little vibrancy, sometimes even lack of understanding. Friedmann enjoyed the public applause, and constantly juggled.

I admire jugglers. But the circus juggler: agile, beautiful in form. In this there is a convinced courage, born of the consciousness of strength. In a trapeze jump, 12 meters high, I see the ironic smile of a being who thinks. The juggler is attractive, not because he laughs a lot, but because he knows what he can do and has confidence in his muscles. He never exceeds the possibilities of his members. He never detracts from the beauty of a leap by the vanity of going beyond others. Friedmann, flicking his fingers with lightning speed, is not courageous: he is reckless, a sentimentalist who abandons intelligence and criticism, forgets the life of the work, to satisfy a vanity, Bad vanity.

The snha. Novaes does not have this ability: he is much more musical, however. And it is possible that this lesser skill has influenced his art; for I think I see in the pianist (another romantic trait) a predilection for effect. The proof is in certain pieces, which go wonderfully to his fingers, and which he repeats tirelessly in his concerts. I won't remember the National Anthem because I'm certain that this fireworks for the celebration of the Divine disgusts the artistic conscience of the great virtuoso. It is the patriotic stupidity of part of her audience that forces her to repeat even worse (I warmly justify this decadence) the infamous pyrotechnics.

When however said that snha. Novaes doesn't have perfect technique, I didn't want to suggest that it was insufficient. Oh no! It lacks strength, often lacks clarity... What compensation, what elasticity, what firmness, what sound quality! It won't have the pearly texture of Viana da Morta, nor the flatness of Risler; but what exact pedaling, what a singer!

But technique is of little interest from a critical point of view. Having or not having technique is a matter of work, a question of the teacher and personal physical skills. Everything that reminds one of the craft's cuisine contradicts the listener's commotion. Technique is a melo that matters to the performer to acquire, but indifferent to the spectator.

The snha. Novaes has more than enough technique. If it does not have the necessary relative strength for large environments, it nevertheless manages impressive dynamic rises and is extraordinary in the harsh notes (35st tempo, op. XNUMX, Chopin). If in the excessively harmonized passages she is sometimes confused, she manages like no one else the sixths of the barcarole, the octaves of jongleuse.

Having therefore verified the technical wealth of the illustrious pianist, I immediately consider her as an interpreter.

As such two special aspects presents: the overflows in sentimental excesses. It does not overflow in excesses, sentimental. I do not point out defects. I check trends. A trend may not be current, this does not imply that it is defective.

The snha. Novaes is either an adorable fantasy or an unfettered sensibility. What does not suit his temperament is the moved but serene discretion of the classics and the intellectual impressionism of the modernists. (And for Brazil Debussy is still a modernist, helas!). In these as in those, not finding a wide field for his exalted sensibility, he looks at them as if they were each another Liszt of rhapsodies in which everything is in search of the effect. It's a mistake. Undeniable: exquisitely interprets certain passages of Bach or the Soirée with grenade. But these works do not come out lived of your fingers. They are pretexts for an effect and not patterns to which a sensitivity guided by a very high wisdom is limited. the irony of minsrels so it went unnoticed... And the snha. Novaes, who had been so touched by the mockery made of Chopin at the first soirée of the Semana de Arte Moderna, should not include in one of its programs the caricature, made by Debussy, of these naive medieval minstrels, whose troubadour singing is the first roar of sensitive music.

The legitimate romantics, born in the decade between 1803 and 1813, present two tendencies that became the unmistakable characteristics of the group: the exalted fantasy and the sensibility without intellectual control. It will therefore be the greatest interpreter of these masters who best characterizes these two tendencies. The snha. Novaes, having this power at an impressive maximum, is, in my opinion, of all the pianists I have heard, the best interpreter of musical romanticism.

Chopin, Schumann and Liszt are the fields in which she excels.

Liszt himself, whose musical value is small, manages to be heard with pleasure when she performs it. It's just that the virtuoso perceived the sometimes total lack of feeling in the abbot's sonic anyness, but understood his immense fantasy. Just the snha. Novaes still has the right to perform those worn rhapsodies where a false longing is masked (just read what Bartok says about Hungarian national themes correct e increased by Liszt) between hysterias of flutistic cadences, trills, insulting shots in the bass and other things of even lesser value. A 10th Rhapsody it is firecracker that only has the right to exist when the famous virtuoso is in charge of performing the glissandos. But where the performer's fantasy allows her a legitimate and total creation is in the Leprechaun Dance. I saw the elves come out in green pinwheels from the black Steinway. They formed a vertiginous circle around the pianist in which a ray of moonlight posed stealthily… I had always wanted to meet those little elves… They advised me to read Leconte… I left the lesson like Jacobus Tournebroche from the experience of the Lord D'Astarac, told by Anatolio France: incredulous as he entered. One day, while reading Shakespeare, I felt elves around me... But when the dream. Novaes performed the excerpt from Liszt I saw the little translucent entities. The illustrious pianist, by the power of her imagination, had created the non-existent. I owe you this beautiful emotion of my life.

No Carnival fantasy and sensibility come together in equal potency. I consider this monument the most wildly romantic piece of music. Unfortunately it was not possible for me to attend the recent concert in which snha Novaes performed the op. 9. And, given the constant variation of their interpretations (another romantic characteristic), this deprivation caused me real pain. But the previous performance of the Carnival… The snha. Novais left for the United States. Farewell concert.

I was in the chicken coop. He was sweating, sweating in a gaping crowd, eternally and unconditionally enthusiastic at any interpretation, good or bad, that came out of the hands of the great artist. Feelings of discomfort and contempt. But Guiomar had shaken up the opening rhythms of the piece with an energy, a conviction, a truth unsurpassed… What laughs! What I heard! Virtuosis, from a school point of view, gave us the falsest, most exaggerated interpretation possible. What frantic rubatos! What spasmodic planes! What strange phraseological dynamisms! But it was just sublime. I believe that twice I will not have the same emotion with this piece. I deposit in the glory of snha. Novaes the tear that I cried that night. It is the gift of a man who has neither sympathy nor antipathy for the interpreter. A man insensitive to the glory that accompanies it. A man exempt from patriots who is not proud of his wife. Novaes is Brazilian because she considers great artists, whether creators or interpreters, beings whose nationality does not matter, but to whom all of us humans must be recognized. In my tear goes the homage of a being, not without prejudice (it's an extra-human thing) but as free as possible from sentimental prejudices.

will perform the Carnival the most romantic way it can be imagined… Is there a mistake in that? No. It is customary for critics to repeat the following commonplace, albeit with a lack of style: “Snr. Tal interpreted Chopin without the exaggerations to which certain imported pianists are accustomed. Its sober execution gave us the real Chopin…etc.” How stupid!

What is the real Chopin? If this is what tradition has preserved for us of a man who in Vienna was dubbed a “women's pianist”, who had terrors and hallucinations with his maternal lover in Mallorca, who died of consumption… …

What is the real Schumann? If what tradition tells us is a fantastic being, various, unequal, snatching his hand away from too much study, writing nocturnal plays because he feels, from afar, that a loved one is dying, carnivals e kreislerians by excesses of enthusiasm and hatred and ends up crazy... For the legitimate understanding of these men will be in fix them and transport them to the classic serenity that lacked the energy the classic serenity that unspoken is the accuracy of snha's interpretations. News. It gives us Schumann, Chopin, not trapped in a certain interpretative way, not even as they existed in space and time… It goes further: It gives us the “animal” Schumann the “animal” Chopin as they would have existed (ideal realities) if not Had there been those famous circumstances that Taine was foolish enough to discover, and more prejudices of musical meters and D-majors.

And about Chopin… Another very amusing commonplace among critics is to say, to each new pianist who steps on these blessed and unknown lands of Pauliceia, that this is the distinguished interpreter of Chopin. Nothing more wrong. Rubinstein, except for the posthumous waltz, in one mazurka or another, murdered the Pole. Perhaps a matter of race hatred… Risler? Bad, really bad. I still remember with shudders the performance of the nocturne in F sharp… Friedmann understood Chopin as a concert cadence, in which everything consisted of shining… I was only satisfied with the romantic: Paderewski, Mrs. Carreras and the snha. News.

And this one more than any other. Why? Chopin, we know, worked like a La Fontaine, a Da Vinci, a late-stage Beethoven. Always discontented and tireless in the corgir. However: nothing is more bewildering than Chopin's style. Ballads like Berceuse or Barcarola, nocturnes like sonatas, preludes like etudes have a character of complete improvisation, in which, however, the master left something of his own, unmistakable, even from the construction point of view. Chopin's form is unattainable. Certain technical processes are imitated, the arpeggado, the melismas. Everyone can be free in the constructive development of a prelude, as Chopin was...

But no one can imitate him, such is the imprint of personality that he imprinted on the musical forms he took over. The snha. Novaes is justly remarkable in the author of Berceuse because creates Chopin. She is Chopin. Carefully prepared interpretations of it, I believe, assume such a character of inspiration, of lyrical impulse, of laissez-aller, which gives the impression of a new, formidable work. As if Chopin improvises. And he does it like no other interpreter that has passed through us. Now, in imitative music (using the term in the Aristotelian sense) this improvisation is not only necessary, but essential for the work of art to correspond psychologically to what it intends to represent. Hence they assume Chopin's interpretations by snha. Novaes has that force of reality, that moving vehemence rarely achieved by others.

And his understanding of the master is so integral that, while generally searching for particular effects (sometimes even changing the written music, lengthening notes, contradicting interpretations determined by the author) snha. Novaes disdains, when performing Chopin, particularities and effects that stunned his worshipers, to directly attack the realization of these musical retellings that the painful musician left behind. That's why I wrote earlier that “the snha. Novaes creates Chopin”.

And I finish. I follow the career of the great artist with admiration and curiosity. As her forces gather, she becomes deeper and more personal. It varies and grows from concert to concert. Perhaps it is even a certain eagerness to do better that leads her to repeat and repeat the same pieces. It is a mistake. The snha. Novaes, even in her circle of favorite authors, she could, should vary her programs more.

And in the beautiful evolution that follows, it kindles more and more the romantic propensities that I mentioned. Unfortunately for the Klaxist opinion… But it is true that for them she became the brilliant interpreter of Schumann and Chopin.

[Published in the magazine Horn no. 3, July 15, 1922]

*Mario de Andrade (1893-1945) was a poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian, critic and photographer. Author, among other books, of Macunaima.



Mario de Andrade. I still drink from the cup of others: towards a modernist aesthetic. Organization: Yussef Campus. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2022, 222 pages.

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