If admirers of Argentine pianist Martha Argerich could ask the award-winning musician for one wish, they would most likely try to persuade her to perform and record solo more often. Fans and classical music critics a like often express their frustration with the virtuoso, but not because they feel she lacks talent; critics repeatedly compare her sound, energy, and passion to that of piano legend Vladimir Horowitz. Rather, Argerich, one of the world’s most exciting and expressive musicians to see and hear perform, appears on stage alone only on rare occasions, preferring to share the spotlight with other musicians. Likewise, her recordings as a soloist remain rare in comparison to those of other great classical pianists, although her discography includes works by Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Falla, Franck, Hayden, Liszt, Paganini, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Schubert, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. “Any recording involving Martha Argerich is to be treasured,” wrote Allen Linkowski for American Record Guide. “Her discography is much too small for a pianist of her stature, and public appearances become rarer and rarer with the passing of time.” She enjoys playing the piano, but feels uncomfortable within the business of music and working as a “pianist.” An always gracious performer, she collaborates with orchestras and ensembles “first among equals,” as quoted by Bob Cowan in Independent.
The reluctant, yet not entirely reclusive, Argerich has presented the music world with just a portion of the masterpieces she knows and loves. Perhaps her reluctance could stem from wanting to always play to perfection and the pressures of turning professional at an early age, as illustrated by her description of one of the most defining moments from her childhood to Jura Margulis of the Call Project: “When I was very young, about eight or so, I was to perform a Mozart concerto, and before the concert I went to the bathroom, knelt down, and told myself that if I missed a single note, I would explode. I don’t know why I believed that, but I didn’t miss a single note. It’s terrible for a young person, and that explains something about me today, I think.”
Born in 1941 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Martha Argerich displayed an interest in music at the tender age of about two years and eight months old. An extremely gifted child, her mother had enrolled her in kindergarten early, and most of the children were much older than Argerich. One of her classmates, an older boy around five years old, insisted on teasing Argerich, telling her that she was not old enough to do certain things. Nevertheless, the determined Argerich would always do exactly what her classmate said she couldn’t, including playing the piano. “Once he got the idea of telling me I couldn’t play the piano,” Argerich related to Dean Elder in a 1979 interview for Clavier. “I still remember it. I immediately got up, went to the piano, and started playing a tune that the teacher was playing all the time. I played the tune by ear and perfectly. The teacher immediately called my mother and they started making a fuss. And it was all because of this boy who said ‘You can’t play the piano.’”
Recognizing her daughter’s inborn musical ability, Argerich’s mother decided to enroll her child in private lessons. And Argerich began playing the piano seriously at the young age of five, taking instruction from a renowned Italian teacher named Scaramuzzo. Argerich’s mother, whilenot a musician herself, insisted on the best for her daughter and forced Argerich to practice. She commented to Elder that “I had the type of teacher and parents who used to tell me when I was a little girl that my fiancé was the piano. I didn’t have much freedom as a child.” Although Scaramuzzo flaunted a despotic and sometimes sadistic approach to teaching, he had taught some of the greatest pianists from Argentina. “When he would say mean, caustic things, he would do it very calmly, very coolly, such things as one was an idiot, and one shouldn’t come to the lesson, and I had to concentrate on the mole next to his nose in order not to cry…. He was quite unpredictable, irrational, but a great teacher,” Argerich told Margulis. “He said a student is like iron or steel, if you bend iron it breaks, and the sooner the better. If you bend steel, it regains its original shape.” Thus Argerich, able to withstand the demands of her instructor.
Born in 1941 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Education: took private lessons from age five to ten with renowned Italian instructor Scaramuzzo; later studied in Europe with other notable instructors, including Madame Dinu Lipatti, Nikita Magaloff, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Friedrich Gulda.
Made professional debut at age eight in Buenos Aires; gave U.S. debut performance for Lincoln Center’s Great Performers Series in New York, 1966; performed as guest soloist with numerous North American orchestras, such as the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, National Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Toronto Symphony; appeared on stage and recorded with other classical musicians, including violinist Gidion Kremer, cellist Mischa Maisky, pianist Nelson Freire, and pianist/conductor Alexandre Rabinovitch..
Awards: First prize at the Geneva Invitational Competition and the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition in Bolzano, Italy, 1957; became first musician from the Western Hemisphere to win first prize at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Poland, in 1965.
Addresses: Record company —Deutsche Grammaphon, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY, 10019, (212) 333-8000.
continued to develop her musical talent. In just a few years, at only eight years old, Argerich made her first professional appearance in Buenos Aires, displaying her mastery of both the Mozart D minor and the Beethoven C major Concertos. And by the age of 11, now studying with one of Scaramuzzo’s assistants who taught her much about sight reading, the child prodigy had mastered concertos by Schumann as well.
Argerich continued to dazzle audiences throughout Argentina after her debut. Then around the age of 12, she left the guidance of Scaramuzzo’s assistant for Europe to study with other notable instructors, including Madame Dinu Lipatti, who also used a harsh teaching style; Nikita Magaloff, who adored Argerich’s playing; Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who insisted his students strive for perfection; and Friedrich Gulda, who Argerich considered one of her most important influences. Because Argerich, who spoke Spanish, and Gulda, who spoke German, could not communicate in the same language, they spoke instead through music, as well as in a made-up language they used together, which Guida called “pan-Romanic.” Argerich told Margulis that during one of her first lessons in Vienna, Austria, with Guida, “he tried to transmit a certain emotion in the music to me, and since he couldn’t find words, he grabbed me and pulled me in the bathroom, picked up a wet sponge, and dampened his face. Pointing to his soaked face, he said ’Like that! Like that!’” Guida also would record his lessons with Argerich and make his young student listen to the recordings with him, so that she could criticize her own work. “This was very interesting because it was very democratic,” Argerich said to Elder. “He liked to know what I had to say, what I thought. It was not this thing that usually happens between pupil and teacher. It was fantastic.” He believed that a musician needed a bit of talent, instruction, and a sort of arrogance or vanity in order to rouse an audience. Argerich, one of his prized students, seemed to radiate all of these qualities.
In Europe, Argerich’s skills steadily improved, and in 1957 at age 16, during the span of three weeks time, she won both the Geneva International Competition and the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition in Bolzano, Italy. For these competitions, the teenage pianist performed the Liszt Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody. Amazingly, she had never played a piece by Liszt before, as she confided to Elder, “At that time I was very superstitious so I wouldn’t play a piece all the way through even for myself. I was afraid that something… so I just waited until I passed to the next round to learn the next pieces.” Subsequently, these achievements brought even more prestige to her already legendary career. However, Argerich, feeling overwhelmed with her schedule, decided to retreat from making appearances for awhile, but emerged again in 1965 and became the first musician from the Western Hemisphere to win first prize at the ChopinCompetition in Warsaw, Poland. Following this, she made her United States debut in 1966, performing for Lincoln Center’s Great Performers Series in New York. With her reputation secured in North America, she then went on to perform as guest soloist with numerous orchestras such as the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, National Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Toronto Symphony.
As Argerich’s career progressed into the 1970s and 1980s, she declined more and more opportunities to give solo recitals. In addition, Argerich realized that the life of a professional musician had its down sides as well as its rewards. She confessed to Elder, “I love very much to play the piano, but I don’t like being a pianist. I don’t like the profession. And when one plays, of course, it is important to practice. But the profession itself—the traveling and the way of life—all this has nothing to do with playing or with music, absolutely nothing! This is what I do not enjoy about being a concert pianist. You never know when you are are very young, when you are studying, what the profession is about.” However, she did not turn into a musical recluse. Rather, Argerich altered her schedule to include numerous chamber performances, ranging from the works of Bach to Mozart, in addition to the master works of Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Bartók, Janacek, and Messiaen. She most often appeared for recorded work and on stage with partners such as violinist Gidion Kremer, cellist Mischa Maisky, pianist Nelson Freire, and pianist/conductor Alexandre Rabinovitch. She enjoyed sharing the limelight with other talented musicians who, in turn, inspired her to delve into each piece.
Argerich also took inspiration from watching other musicians perform. One of her most memorable experiences includes attending a Vladimir Horowitz concert in January of 1978 with her piano partner Freire. The event marked Horowitz’s first appearance with an orchestra in 25 years, as well as Argerich’s first time to see him in person. Regarding Horowitz, Argerich said to Elder, “The strength of his expression, the sound, and this incredible violence he has inside which is so strange, weird, and frightening. That he can express it. He’s like possessed. I’ve read about this, but this was the first time that I saw on stage someone who has that!” Later, though, critics would compare Argerich’s playing to that of the legendary Horowitz. As Cowan noted in a 1999 review of her performance at Tokyo’s SumindaTriphony Hall, “Argerich thunders the keys with as much energy and passion as Vladimir Horowitz did 22 years earlier at Carnegie Hall.”
The remarkable artist continued to make guest appearances, give chamber performances, and release recordings well into the 1990s, all of which won critical praise. Further, she received two Grammy Award nominations for chamber music in 1997, one for an album of piano pieces by Strauss, and the other for her recording with Kremer featuring Beethoven violin sonatas. In 1998, John Ardoin of the Dallas Morning News named Argerich’s two-day concert at Carnegie Hall on October 24 and 25 as one of the ten best classical performances of the year; for the event, the standard-setting pianist played concertos of Chopin and Liszt with the Montreal Symphony.
As an adult Argerich made time for other interests in addition to her music, a freedom she lacked throughout her upbringing. She confided to Elder that “I have long periods without touching the piano, and I don’t miss it. And then I can get possessed by the piano for a while as well.” During these times away from playing, she enjoys taking walks, spending time and talking withnon-musicians, and experiencing different atmospheres unrelated to music.
Bach: English Suite #2 in a, BWV, 1979.
Bach: Partita for Piano #2 in c, BWV, 1979.
Bach: Toccata in c, BWV, 1979.
Beethoven/Haydn: Piano Concertos (2/11), EMI, 1983.
(with Maisky) Bach: Cello Sonatas, Deutsche Grammaphon, 1987.
(with Kremer) Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos. 1-3, PGD/Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
(with Rabinovitch) Brahms: Haydn Variations, etc., 1987.
Schubert: Sonata for Arpeggione; Schumann: Fantasiestücke, 1987.
Schumann: Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, PGD/Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
(With Abbado and Dutoit) Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto 1; Prokiev: Piano Concerto 3, PGD/Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
(with Kremer) Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos. 4 & 5, PGD/Deutsche Grammophon, 1988.
(with Leonard Bernstein) Stravinsky: Les Noces, Mass, 1988.
(with Kremer and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra) Mendelssohn: Violin and Piano Concerto in D Minor, etc., 1989.
(with Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra) Ravel: Piano Concerts, Menuet antique, etc., reissued 1989.
(with Ricci) 50th Anniversary Concert, Etcetera, 1991.
Chopin Compact Edition —Préludes, Etc., 1991.
(with Rostropovich) Chopin Compact Edition —Sonata for Cello and Piano, etc., 1991.
(with Kremer) Tchaikovsky Compact Edition —Piano and Violin Concertos, 1991.
(with Rabinovich and others) Rachmaninoff: Suites Op. 5 & 17, Symphonic Dances Op. 45, reissued 1992.
(with Kremer) Prokofiev.Violinsonaten, 5 Melodien, 1993.
(with others) Strauss: New Year’s Eve Concert 1992, 1993.
(with Maisky) Beethoven: Cellosonaten Op. 69 & 102, etc., Deutsche Grammophon, 1994.
(with Rabinovitch) Mozart: Sonatas, 1994.
(with Abbado and Berliner) Prometheus —The Myth in Music, 1994.
(with Kremer) Schumann: Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, WEA/Atlantic/Teldec, 1994.
(with Chailly and Kondrashin) Argerich —Rachmaninoff 3, Tchaikovsky 1, Philips, 1995.
(with Sinopoli) Beethoven: Piano Concertos 1 &2, DG, 1995.
(with Kremer) Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos. 6-8, PGD/Deutsche Grammophon, 1995.
(with others) Duo Piano Extravaganza: Martha Argerich and Friends, PGD/Philips, 1995.
Shostakovich, Hayden: Piano Concerti, 1995.
(with Kremer) Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos. 9 & 10, PGD/Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
(with Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra) Chopin, Liszt: Piano Concertos, 1996.
(with Abbado and others) Prokofiev, Ravel: Piano Concerti, DG, 1996.
Schumann, R.: Fantasie in C, Op. 17/Fantasiestuecke Op. 12 nr. 1-8, EMI, reissued 1996.
(with Rabinovich) Schumann: Klavier quartett, etc., 1996.
(with Abbado) Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto 1, etc., 1996.
(with others) Centenary Edition Vol. 10 (1988-1997), 1997.
(with others) Complete Beethoven Edition Vol. 7 —Violin Sonatas, 1997.
(with others) Complete Beethoven Edition Vol. 8 —Cello Sonatas, 1997.
Martha Argerich Collection, DG, 1997.
Great Pianists of the 20th Century—Martha Argerich Vol. 1, Philips, 1998.
(with Dutoit) Piano Concertos: Prokofiev (#1, #3)/Bartok (#3), EW, 1998.
Chopin—The Legendary 1965 Recording, EMI, 1999.
(with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra) Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2, EMI, 1999.
(with Horowitz and others) Great Pianists of the 20th Century, Brilliant Classics, 1999.
Great Pianists of the 20th Century—Martha Argerich Vol. 2, Philips, 1999.
(with Rabinovich and Faerber) Mozart: Piano Concertos no. 10, 19 & 20, Teldec, 1999.
(with Kremer and Maisky) Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky: Trios, Deutsche Grammophon, 1999.
American Record Guide, January 11, 1996, p. 156(1); September 19, 1996, p. 210(1); May 1, 1997.
Daily Telegraph, March 26, 1999.
Dallas Morning News, February 23, 1997, p.7C; July 29, 1998, p. 29A; October 28, 1998, p. 33A; December 29, 1998, P.23A; July 6, 1999, p. 19A.
Independent, March 4, 1994; October 12, 1998, p. 11; July 30, 1999, p. 18.
New Statesman, April 2, 1999.
Newsday, December 1, 1996, p. C27; October 28, 1997, p. B09.
USA Today, August 29, 1995.
“Argerich Biography,” http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/~juragaga/Argerichbio.htm (August 9, 1999).
“Argerich—Discography,” http://www.andrys.com/argerich.html (August 11, 1999).
“Argerich—Interview excerpts, 1978,” http://www.andrys.com/arg-1979.html (August 10, 1999).
Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com (August 12, 1999).
CDnow, http://www.cdnow.com (August 12, 1999).
“Interview with Martha Argerich,” http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/~juragaga/Argerich.htm (August 9, 1999).
“Pianist: Martha Argerich,” http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Strauss/2914/artists/argerich.html (June 6, 1999).
Martha Argerich is one of the most sought-after piano virtuosos of our time. That she seems to treat her career playing the piano as an imposition rather than a reward only seems to make her more appealing to fans. Her concert schedule is pocked with cancellations, often at the last minute, but her cachet is so strong that, in a business that typically books its artists years in advance she is often able to schedule performances on short notice.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argerich made her concert debut at the age of five and performed at the Teatro Astral and Teatro Colon while still a child. At the age of fourteen, she moved with her mother to Vienna, where she studied with Friedrich Gulda, Nikita Magaloff, and, briefly, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.
In 1957, at the age of sixteen, Argerich handily won the Geneva International Piano Competition and the Busoni Piano Competition; the resulting recognition led to a whirlwind of European concerts. In 1960 she made her first recording, a collection of pieces by Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Ravel, and Prokofiev; critics favorably compared the album to historic Horowitz recordings. But, just as her career was taking off, Argerich took a break, complaining of fatigue.
She moved to New York and stopped playing the piano for a year, emerging in 1965 to make her London debut and compete in the Warsaw International Chopin Competition, which she easily won. Winning one of the world's top piano competitions put her squarely back into the international concert circuit. Resuming her concert and recording career, she made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1965 and has been at the top of the piano world ever since.
Argerich's volatility has loomed large in both her career and personal life. She was married to conductor Pierre Dutoit from 1969 to 1974, and the two have been longtime musical collaborators. She has three children by three different men. She stopped performing solo in the early 1980s, and, in the middle of the decade, she took a two-year break from all performing. When she returned
to the stage, it was with orchestras and chamber music collaborators. The cutback in her performances only made each concert more prized as an event. When she finally performed solo again—at Carnegie Hall on March 25, 2000—the concert was the talk of the music world. It had been nineteen years since she had performed solo.
Though she seems to dislike performing in concerts, Argerich has recorded extensively: Her resume boasts more than fifty albums for Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec, RCA, EMI, Philips, and Sony. Her recordings, highly prized by collectors, cut across the piano repertoire: solo pieces and collaborations with full orchestra and chamber ensembles. In 1999 her recording of Prokofiev's Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 and Bartok's Concerto No. 3 with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony won a Grammy. In 2001 she was named Musical America's Musician of the Year.
Argerich's appeal is not difficult to understand. Her performances are charismatic, but in a way that draws attention to the music rather than herself. A listener feels her connecting to the music, exploring novel expressive paths rather than retreading familiar ones. Her musical instincts are harnessed to a prodigious technique that allows her the freedom to explore.
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1; Rachmaninov Concerto No. 3 (Philips, 1995); Prokofiev, Ravel: Piano Concertos (Deutsche Grammophon, 1996).
Argerich, Martha, outstanding Argentine pianist; b. Buenos Aires, June 5, 1941. She made her first public appearance at the age of 5; after studies with Vincenzo Scaramuzza, she made her debut in Buenos Aires at age 8; later, pursued training with Gulda in Vienna and with Magaloff and Madeleine Lipatti in Geneva; also received lessons from Michelangeli. At the age of 16, she captured 1st prizes in both the Geneva and Busoni competitions; then won the Chopin Competition in Warsaw (1965). She pursued a notable career as a virtuoso, appearing with the leading orchs. of the world, as a recitalist, and as a chamber music artist. Her formidable repertoire ranges from Liszt and Chopin to Ravel and Prokofiev. She was married to Charles Dutoit and, later, to Stephen Kovacevich .
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire