The extraordinary Brazilian pianist, Guiomar Novães, was the 17th of 19 children. At seven she started taking piano lessons in São Paulo, where her family had moved to, with Luigi Chiaffarelli, an Italian who had been a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni and who was responsible for her incomparable tone, her seamless legato, her left hand being able to sing unknown phrases and her pedal sustaining the sound like if "floating" on the air. Chiaffarelli was also the teacher of Antonietta Rudge, another Brazilian pianist who made an international career in Europe in the beginning of the century and whom Artur Rubinstein considered as one of his musical passions.
Soon Guiomar Novães began performing in public and at the age of 13, she was already known in São Paulo as a very gifted pianist and called attention of officials of the Brazilian Government; she received a grant for four years of study in Europe. In Paris, she applied for the Paris Conservatoire, where she took first place among 389 candidates who auditioned. The jury consisted of Debussy, Gabriel Fauré and Moszkowski. Debussy praised her for "the power of total inner concentration, rare among artists." She was admitted to the Conservatoire and there studied with Isidore Philipp, who described her as a true "force of nature." She graduated from the Paris Conservatoire in 1911.
Guiomar Novães made her official European debut was with the Chatelet Orchestra, under Gabriel Pierné. She toured England, Italy, Switzerland and Germany and won a First Prize at the Paris Conservatoire. The 1914 war interrupted her career in Europe and she went back to her native São Paulo in Brazil. She got an invitation to go to the USA and made her USA debut at Aeolian Hall in New York in November 1915, and subsequently made numerous tours of the USA for near 57 years. Reviewing one of her concerts, James Huneker described her as "the Paderewska of the Pampas"
In Brazil Guiomar Novães married in 1922 the Brazilian architect Octavio Pinto, who was probably her greatest admirer. They had two children, Ana Maria and Luiz Octavio. Octavio Pinto was an architect, but also a composer. His piano suite Scenas Infantis (Memories of Childhood), published by G. Schirmer, was recorded by his wife and often played as encore in her recitals. She made her home in São Paulo, with frequent sojourns in New York. In 1956 the Brazilian government awarded her the Order of Merit as a goodwill ambassador to the USA. She made her last American appearance at Hunter College in 1972. She was invited by Queen Elizabeth II to play a recital at the opening season of Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in April 1967. The program included works by Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy and encores by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Purcell and Vuillemin.
Guiomar Novães was especially praised for her interpretations of the music of Chopin, Robert Schumann, and other composers of the Romantic era, and to a lesser extent Debussy. She also played pieces by south American composers, including some works written for her by her husband. Her individuality of tone and phrasing, the dynamic colours of her playing, her extraordinary singing line, and the subtle, nuanced and insightful approach to her interpretations mark her as one of the outstanding pianists of the 20th century. She exuded a personal charm, while often disregarding the more pedantic aspects of the music. She left a variety of hard to find recordings - including an analogic recording of L.v. Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, with Otto Klemperer and the Wiener Symphoniker -, greatly sought by musicians.