The British pianist, Marie Novello, was born Marie Williams, daughter of one W.T. Williams. She owed her name to adoption by her piano teacher, Clara Novello Davies, mother of Ivor Novello and also a celebrated singing teacher. Following studies with her mother, Marie was among the last students of Theodor Leschetizky. He denied her first request to study with him in 1912, as she spoke only English; she responded by learning German, whereupon he relented.
Marie Novello's professional career began early. As a child, she won the principal piano prize at the Welsh National Eisteddfod, and she shared piano playing honors with Feruccio Busoni at the September 1907 Cardiff Triennial Music Festival. In spring 1908, she toured the English provinces with a company assembled by Percy Harrison, a promoter who regularly organized such groups; among her compatriots were John McCormack, fresh from his first season at Covent Garden and participating in a Harrison tour for the first time, and Emma Albani. Around the same time, a 10-year-old Novello performed at Wigmore Hall, then known as Bechstein Hall. She performed regularly in London during her teen years, often as one of multiple soloists sharing a recital. In her early twenties, she began appearing at the Proms, Ballad Concerts, and Sunday League Concerts and in music festivals at Brighton and Cardiff.
Marie Novello traveled to the USA in late 1921, arriving on December 28 aboard the White Star Line liner RMS Olympic. On January 21, 1922 she made her debut in Chicago, Illinois. A month later, on February 23, 1922, she made her New York debut at Town Hall, where she played a program including works of Frédéric Chopin, Scarlatti, Debussy, Palmgren, and Poldini.
During this period, Marie Novello made numerous recordings for the English Edison Bell. She also recorded reproducing piano rolls for the Aeolian Company's Duo-Art system; doubtless as a fruit of this connection, she once partnered with a reproducing piano in a public performance of the Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for two pianos, four hands by Saint-Saëns. A few years later, at the dawn of electrical recording, she formed an association with HMV, but throat cancer claimed her life when she had recorded only a few sides.
In her choice of repertory, Marie Novello showed preference for music of the romantic era and particular affinity for virtuoso works such as Franz Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor. She did not entirely neglect contemporary works, however; she achieved notice for performing the premiere of the Rhapsody on Tipperary for piano and orchestra by Frank Tapp, a composer well represented in English concert halls at the time but now forgotten. She then took the work on tour throughout the UK. Critical reception to her work appears to have been mixed, with more than one suggestion that she tended toward impulsiveness and a lack of firm control. Her tone also sometimes drew critical disparagement. Nonetheless, critics praised her technical facility and capacity to communicate.
Marie Novello evidently had some interest in the mechanical reproduction of sound, as, on June 14, 1924, she participated as a judge in a public competition between gramophones sponsored by The Gramophone magazine. Her fellow judges included Alfred Kalisch, Percy Scholes, Peter Latham, Alec Robertson, and Francis Brett Young. Over the course of the evening, the judges and the audience of 400 marked ballots comparing the performance of some 15 different machines divided into two price classes, nearly all bearing names now long forgotten. She joined her compatriots in unanimous preference for a machine called The Three Muses reproducing the Adagio from L.v. Beethoven's Spring Sonata performed by Albert Sammons and William Murdoch; that vote was the sole instance of a unanimous panel, and her other opinions are not recorded. During the interval, the audience was treated to a demonstration of a reproducing piano, but on the Welte-Mignon system, not the Duo Art for which Novello cut a few rolls.
Making her own records almost entirely for Edison Bell, Marie Novello accumulated an extensive discography of acoustic recordings, albeit, as was typical of the time, one weighted heavily to the sort of short works that could fit on one or at most two sides of a 78 RPM record. Her sole multi-disc set was a recording spreading over five sides of Felix Mendelssohn's Op. 25 piano concerto. One source suggests that Novello was the first musician to record J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 (Carl Tausig arrangement), although the associated claim of extreme rarity for the record may be open to question. Her association with HMV yielded but two issued sides, her sole electrical recordings: a gavotte by Rameau and an Étude de Concert by Arensky.