In 2013 I wrote a blog entitled I have fallen in love, with a lady, about Maria João Pires , a Portuguese pianist. Here is a blog about another pianist, Martha Argerich , seen by many as the greatest pianist of our time. Have I fallen in love with another lady? No, but I got intrigued by her, while I was working on my blog Toccatas. The last few weeks I have listened to numerous YouTube recordings of her concerts and also watched interviews and documentaries about her. In this blog I will concentrate on her musical achievements, but I will intersperse it with some information about her personal life. A very informative article about her was published in 2016 in the Washington Post. Another source of useful information is a blog, The Enigmatic & Extraordinary World of Martha Argerich.
Martha Argerich will be 80 this year and is still going strong. Here she is playing at the Lausitz Festival in Germany, a few months ago. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic there is no audience, no applause, she is just alone in the huge hall. Kind of weird. Click on the caption to watch the recording.
The oldest recordings date back to 1957, when she won two prestigious awards within three weeks, the first prize in the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition in Bolzano and the first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition. She was sixteen year old!
After this success, Deutsche Grammophon wanted to make a gramophone recording with her. Reluctantly she agreed. In 1962 she went to New York, hoping but failing to meet her idol Vladimir Horovitz.
She became depressed, thought about leaving music, got pregnant by a friend and went back to Europe where in 1964 her oldest daughter Lyda was born. It was pianist and pedagogue Stefan Askenase who convinced her to go back to music. In 1965 she won convincingly the first prize at the VII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.
That was the real start of her international career. Here are two recordings from 1969. Ravel’s piano concerto in G, in Rome and Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor, in Buenos Aires.
In the same year 1969 she married the Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit and in 1970 she had a second child with him, Annie. In 1972 they were interviewed by the Swiss RTS. A candid spontaneous happening, notice how she is almost continuously smoking, even while playing!
Their marriage didn’t last, they divorced in 1973, but remain close friends. And they give concerts together like here in 1975 in Genève where she plays Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.
The same year her third daughter Stéphanie was born from a relationship with pianist Stephen Kovacevitch. They still perform together, but from that period I could find only one recording, a piece for two pianos composed by Debussy.
In 1980 the X International Chopin Piano Competition was held in Warsaw with her is now a member of the jury (after winning the first prize herself in 1965). One of the contestants was Ivo Pogorelich. He was eliminated in the third round, Martha Argerich considered him a genius and was so upset that she resigned from the jury in protest. The left video is a documentary about this “scandal”.
A Japanese fan has created a website Martha Argerich Recordings . It is an amazing, huge collection and interesting to see who her favourite composers are, and if any popular piano concertos are missing from her repertoire. For example, here is a recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no 3, but the even more popular no 2 is missing. By the way, the no 3 concerto has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is clearly one of her favourites, she has played it more than fifty times. Here is a recording with Dutoit as conductor. Nice to see how he hugs her after the concert 🙂
She has played the first Beethoven Concertos, but never recorded no 4 and 5. Watch this amusing discussion between Pires and Argerich.
Here is a recording of Beethoven’s Piano concerto no 2. As an encore she plays Scarlatti’s sonata 141 (Toccata). Watch at 29:25 one of her trademarks: she sits down and immediately starts playing.
Only a few of the many Mozart concertos have been recorded by her . KV 466 is my favourite and if you want to know how my fascination with Maria João Pires started, have a look at this video: Maria Joao Pires expecting to play another concerto.
Chopin wrote two piano concertos, she has played both, the first one in E minor more often. Here are two recordings, with three decades in between them. Notice how she has become an “eminence grise”. In 2010 she was again a jury member of the XVI International Chopin Piano Competition. No scandal this time although many were unhappy that Daniil Trifonov only got a third prize.
The piano concerto no 3 of Prokofiev is another favourite of her, here is a recording from December 2020. Her first recording, according to the Japanese site, was in 1959, 60 years earlier. Because of the Covid pandemic there is no audience, the members of the orchestra are sitting far apart, the string section is wearing face masks. After the concert the orchestra applauds and Martha thanks the concertmaster with an elbow salute.
In 2012 Stephanie Argerich, Martha’s youngest daughter, created a fascinating movie about Martha Argerich and her relationship with her daughters. More than 1.5 hour, really worth watching.
In 2016 Martha Argerich went to New York, reluctantly, to receive a Kennedy Centre Honors award.
Her three daughters were also there. From left to right Anne Dutoit, Lyda Chen, Martha and Stephanie Argerich
With all the respect I have for Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires is still my favourite 😉 .