Martha Argerich* is one of the first names displayed on search engine results when you type the words “world’s best pianists,” and yet not many know her outside the world of classical music. Most artists with a career like hers would be basking in the limelight of their accomplishments,1 but according to the media reports and articles, not her. Her passion for playing the piano seems to be larger than life, and she doesn’t let her accomplishments in classical music get in the way of her love for the instrument.
In the documentary Bloody Daughter, filmed by her daughter Stéphanie Argerich, she explains how it felt when she stopped playing the piano for two years during the peak of her career. It gives a clear understanding of how she perceives her piano skills. She expresses to her daughter, “You know, it’s something that’s very hard to explain … It’s like being used to running, a lot, and then all of a sudden, for a few years you don’t even walk, or you can’t.”2 Playing the piano came instinctively to Argerich. It was simply like walking or running to her. Something that we don’t get praise or accolades for.
A more thorough search and analysis of her many interviews and articles available on the internet will reveal that her transparent and honest personality balances out the reclusive reputation she has gained over the years.
She may avoid the media and rarely agree to interviews, but she is not media shy, and this is evident in most of her interviews. It is easy to ascertain that she expresses herself frankly and is sometimes transparent to a fault when she interacts with reporters. She rarely hides the depth of her intellect and often explains her perspectives through her personal opinions and experiences.3
The media shy reputation, more than anything, seems like a quick and easy way to define her personality and how she chooses to handle her stature in the world of music.
Argerich is well aware of the fact that she is considered one of the best pianists in music history, but she views her accomplishments with logic and humility. In one of her interviews, she asserts that “…music is always better. Better than ourselves anyway, better than what we want, than what we play. Music is always better,” 3 and this is exactly where her mystery and beauty lie, in the way that she completely surrenders herself to her music. She holds it above and beyond her greatness.
Since she never went out of her way to gain popularity, many of us may not have heard of this abundantly talented artist. But, here’s a list of things that will help you get acquainted with this mysterious piano virtuoso.
Table of Contents
Born to Play the Piano
Argerich’s mother enrolled her in kindergarten when she was barely 3 years old, which is unusual for children of that age. One day, a 5-year-old boy, who was her classmate, told her she couldn’t play the piano because she wasn’t old enough to do so, and that was enough for Argerich to prove him wrong. She took it as a challenge and began playing a tune that her teacher used to play for the class, by ear. The teacher immediately called Argerich’s mother to inform her about what she had witnessed. Argerich’s mother immediately enrolled her in private piano lessons, and she has been playing the piano ever since.
A Career Spanning Over 72 Years
Born on June 5th, 1941, Martha Argerich is over 80 years old today. She started playing professionally at the age of 84 and still accepts invitations to perform with symphonies and orchestras across the world. She is also best known for chamber music and has mostly focused on these performances throughout her career. While most of her contemporaries have retired, she continues to not only give public performances but also plays with the same vigor and vitality as in her younger years.
Alone in a Room Full of People
Martha Argerich stopped performing solo around the early 1980s for nearly 20 years and expressed that she felt “lonely” on a concert stage. During the period, she only performed with symphonies, orchestras, or when accompanied by a recital partner. Later, in 2000, she gave her first solo performance in nearly 20 years.6 She is an artist who bares her soul through her music and likes to share the experience with her audience and the musicians she is accompanied by.
Pushing the Boundaries to Conquer Fears
Despite her experience, she is honest about her nervousness and feelings of uncertainty. In fact, she often cancels shows at the last minute. She doesn’t mind backing off when she feels like she can’t give her best to the audience.7 However, if she is on stage, it is guaranteed that the crowd will witness a beautifully intimate battle between her abilities and her fears. She makes the audience a part of this wildly raw process and comes out of it better than she went in. She constantly grows and gets better with every performance. In fact, she even mentions in the documentary Bloody Daughter that she never gets bored of playing the same compositions repeatedly. That she learns something new from the same piece of music every time she plays it.3
What Makes Martha Argerich so Good at Playing the Piano?
Argerich’s technique is a mixture of extremely controlled precision and complete wild abandon. It makes her performances limitless and gripping. This could be due to Argerich’s ability to play by ear, her photographic memory, and the rigorous training she received from various renowned piano instructors between her childhood and early adulthood.5 Her technique is a combination of highly mastered extremes that results in a stunningly compelling performance.
“I don’t like revolution, I like evolution”2 – Martha Argerich
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- Schweitzer, V. (2008, August 3). Once-shy pianist tells, um, not quite all. The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/arts/television/03schw.html
- Argerich Vault. (2021, 4 juni). Martha Argerich, in her own words (with English Subtitles) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj3QJqIBI9M
- EuroArtsChannel. (2020, 21 mei). Martha Argerich’s intimate portrait: Bloody Daughter – Film by Stéphanie Argerich [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV2jPWyQOqE
- Martha Argerich | Biography & Facts. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martha-Argerich
- Martha Argerich Biography. (n.d.). Musician Guide. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608002452/Martha-Argerich.html
- Midgette, A. (2016, December 2). Martha Argerich is a legend of the classical music world. But she doesn’t act like one. Washington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/martha-argerich-is-a-legend-of-the-classical-music-world-but-she-doesnt-act-like-one/2016/12/01/117095b4-b104-11e6-be1c-8cec35b1ad25_story.html
- Midgette, A. (2017, October 26). A legend known for canceling shows up and plays for the ages. Washington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/a-legend-known-for-canceling-shows-up-and-plays-for-the-ages/2017/10/26/6cb7829c-ba64-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html