Who is Martha Argerich? All you need to know about the brilliant pianist
Here is our guide to the life and work of the superb Argentine classical pianist Martha Argerich, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists of all time
Martha Argerich is known as one of the finest pianists in the history of classical music, with her performances – in particular – of Schumann, Prokofiev, Chopin, Ravel and Rachmaninov commonly topping the 'best ever performance' lists. But who is Martha Argerich? Where was she born, and whom did she study under?
Read on for our guide to this revered performer.
When and where was Martha Argerich born?
Martha Argerich was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1941. Her family on her father's side were from Catalonia, in north-eastern Spain: however, they had settled in Argentina in the 18th century. Martha's maternal grandparents, meanwhile, were Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire, who had settled in Argentina at the end of the 19th century.
Did Martha Argerich have a musical upbringing?
Yes: in fact, Argerich showed great promise from a very early age. She began piano lessons at the age of three: two years later, she started learning with the Italian pianist and teacher Vincenzo Scaramuzza, who stressed to her the importance of lyricism and feeling.
Who taught Martha Argerich?
The young Martha Argerich performed her first piano concert in 1949, at the age of eight. She performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor and Beethoven's First Piano Concerto in C major. A little later, in 1955, Martha's family moved to Europe, allowing Martha to study piano in Austria with the great classical and jazz pianist Friedrich Gulda.
She also had lessons with pianists Abbey Simon and Nikita Magaloff, as well as Madeleine Lipatti (widow of the pianist Dinu Lipatti). The year 1957 was a red-letter one for the young pianist: aged just 16, Argerich won both the Geneva International Music Competition and the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition within three weeks of each other.
Not everything was plain sailing during this time, however. Argerich had a frustrating time trying to study with the great, but reclusive and enigmatic pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who gave her only four lessons over the course of a year and a half. After that, the young Argerich was off to New York, hoping to study with her pianistic hero Vladimir Horowitz - but this did not bear fruit either.
Discouraged, Argerich abandoned the piano for three years and toyed with giving up altogether. However, she did eventually return - and in some style, winning the VII International Chopin Piano Competition in 1965 at the age of 24.
When did Martha Argerich make her first recording?
The pianist made her first recording in 1960, aged just 19.
The recording featured works by Chopin, Brahms, Ravel, Prokofiev, and Liszt, and was a critical success. Over the decades since, Martha Argerich has recorded works by a wide range of composers, with the Romantic era a speciality. Indeed, her recordings of the piano works of Robert Schumann, such as the Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana and Fantasia, arguably represent the pianist at her expressive, emotional and virtuosic peak.
Where can I read a Martha Argerich interview?
This may not be that easy. Argerich has chosen to stay out of the limelight for much of her career. That hasn't, though, stopped her from being recognised as one of the greatest pianists of all time.
Has Martha Argerich appeared at the Proms?
Yes, on various occasions. Famously, there was the Proms performance in 2016 when, at the age of 75, Argerich played Liszt's First Piano Concerto in a performance conducted by her friend (and fellow Argentine-born musician) Daniel Barenboim.
'It was an unforgettable performance,' said The Guardian. 'Her playing is still as dazzling, as frighteningly precise, as it has always been; her ability to spin gossamer threads of melody as matchless as ever.'
Since then Argerich has also appeared at the 2019 Proms, at the age of 78, to perform Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, once again with Barenboim on the podium. The Guardian labelled this performance 'mesmerising': 'it bristled with intensity and intent from the first bar, so often propelled by the crystal-clear precision that still comes so naturally to her, and the lines of the slow movement floated with weightless ease.'
What are Martha Argerich's best recordings?
We can help with that! Elsewhere on our site you'll find a helpful sample of some of the best recordings of Martha Argerich. These include pieces by Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Mozart, Beethoven and more. Happy listening!
Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.