The Brazilian pianist, conductor, and composer, João de Souza Lima, began his piano studies very early, at first under the guidance of his brother José Augusto de Souza Lima. After that, he studied with Luigi Chiaffarelli, Ferruccio Busoni's pupil, who had also taught Guiomar Novães and Antonietta Rudge, among so many pianists of the early 1900's. When he was 16 he had already composed many works, for he also studied composition with Agostino Cantu. His talent was noted by Senator Freitas Valle, who, at the time, was one of the main sponsors for the arts in Brazil. Souza Lima was sent to Paris, where he attended the Conservatory under the famous Marguerite Long and got a Premier Prix.
Souza Lima remained in France for 11 years. At his debut he played the Camille Saint-Saëns Fourth Concerto for piano and orchestra, in Biarritz. As a pianist he played in the main capitals of Europe, with the most important orchestras and conductors, with enormous success. His concert tours took him to Tunisia and Maroc. He was honoured by the French government with the Légion d'Honneur for his musical contribution. Souza Lima attended the Paris première of many important works, like Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (he took the work to Brazil, where he gave its premiè in Rio, in 1932, with Heitor Villa-Lobos conducting the Brazilian National Orchestra; he also gave the Brazilian première of Richard Strauss' Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra). Still in Europe, Souza Lima worked for some time, with Mme. Debussy, the complete piano works of Debussy. He also studied with Alexander Brailowsky. H. Villa-Lobos was one of the frequent visitors to his Parisian home.
After his return to Brazil, Souza Lima began a brilliant career as a pianist, composer, teacher and conductor. As pianist, he was called The Prince of Brazilian Pianists and gave premières of many important modern works by foreign and Brazilian composers. As a teacher, he brought to Brazil the technical and interpretative characteristics of the French School; he also worked as music editor for Vitale publishing house.
As a conductor, Souza Lima stayed as one of the regular chief conductors of the São paulo Municipal Orchestra; all the most important soloists that visited Brazil played with him. During the almost 40 years with the São Paulo orchestra he was responsible for the premières of a large number of important modern works, as well as many unknown pieces of the classical repertoire; special attention was always given to works by Brazilian composers, practically all of them his friends.
As a composer Souza Lima left one opera, O Rei Mameluco. His Poema das Américas got the Fourth Prize at the Reichold Pan-American Competition, in 1946, in the USA. His piano works range from extremely easy to very difficult. Especially appreciated are his Improvisações. His memoirs were written in his book Moto Perpétuo, published in Brazil.
Souza Lima didn't record much. In the 1950's and 1960's he could be heard playing his recordings of Francisco Mignone's Fantasia Para Piano e Orquestra, Heckel Tavares's Concerto em Formas Brasileiras. He also made a live recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. There were some recordings of orchestral works by Brazilian composers with Souza Lima as a conductor. After his death, his daughter-in-law Emma recorded in Portugal a CD with some of his piano works. In November 2000 a CD was released by Master Classics with some of Souza Lima's remastered recordings. It is Vol. 4 of a series called Great Brazilian Pianists (Grandes Pianistas Brasileiros). Unfortunately, due to copyright problems it was withdrawn from the MCD catalogue just a few months after its release.