She was born on the 23 July 1944 in Lisbon and gave her first public performance in 1948. In Portugal she studied with Campos Coelho and Francine Benoit, later continuing her studies in Germany with Rosl Schmid and Karl Engel.
Since 1970 she has dedicated herself to reflecting on the influence of art on life, community, and education, and in trying to develop new ways of implementing pedagogic theories within society. In the last 10 years she has held many workshops with students from all round the world, and has taken her philosophy and teaching to Japan, Brazil, Portugal, France, and Switzerland.
In 2012 in addition to her chamber music concerts with the Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses, she appears with all the major European orchestras under the batons of Bernard Haitink, Claudio Abbado, and Riccardo Chailly, among others. A frequent visitor to Japan she returns there in spring 2013 with the London Symphony and Maestro Haitink. Maria JoaÌƒo recorded with Erato for 15 years and subsequently, for the last 24 years, with Deutsche Grammophon. Her discography is large and varied and includes Moonlight, featuring Beethoven sonatas, Le Voyage Magnifique Schubert Impromptus, and the complete set of Chopin Nocturnes, together with chamber music and orchestral repertoire.
Her latest recording, of two Mozart concertos conducted by Maestro Abbado, was released in autumn 2012.