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Martha Argerich was a child prodigy, beginning lessons at the age of three with Ernestine C. de Kussrow. Between the ages of five and ten she learnt with Vincent Scaramuzza, making her orchestral debut at the age of nine with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor K. 466, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 15 and Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G major BWV 816. Because of the child’s phenomenal talent, the Argentinian President Juan Perón arranged for Martha’s parents to be employed at the Argentine Embassy in Vienna in order for young Martha to study in that city. From 1955 she studied for about a year and a half with Friedrich Gulda who had a considerable influence on her. In 1957 Argerich won two major international piano competitions, the Busoni Competition in Bolzano, and the Geneva Competition. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty Argerich led the life of a touring virtuoso giving many concerts in Western Europe and Poland, often travelling on her own. An unstructured life-style ungoverned by routine led to Argerich becoming dissatisfied with her performing career. She decided to study with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, but this did not prove successful, neither did the idea of living in New York; Argerich spent nearly two years trying to find some stability in her life.

At the age of twenty-two Argerich married Robert Chen, with whom she had a daughter in 1964. Just before the birth, the marriage ended and at the same time Argerich’s mother entered her in the 1964 Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in Brussels. It was there that she met Stefan Askenase, who was a jury member, and it was he, and particularly his wife, who restored Argerich’s sense of purpose and self-confidence. Shortly afterwards, in November 1964, Argerich made a spectacular debut in London and a few months later entered the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She not only won the competition outright, but won the special prize for interpretation of the mazurkas as well. Her American debut followed in January 1966, but her New York orchestral debut was not given until February 1970 when she played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 26 with Claudio Abbado. Since then Argerich has toured Europe, North and South America, Russia, Israel and Japan. During the 1980s and 1990s Argerich appeared less in public as a solo performer and now only appears on a stage with other musicians, either in a piano concerto or chamber music. Friends who partner her include pianist Nelson Freire, violinists Gidon Kremer and Ivry Gitlis, and cellist Mischa Maisky.

There seem to be no limits to Argerich’s technique which is all-encompassing. She employs a remarkable relaxation of the hand and wrist and always appears completely natural at the keyboard. She excels in the music of the virtuoso composers such as Liszt, Prokofiev and Ravel, but her repertoire also includes Bach, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, and Bartók.

Although she has appeared on many labels including Sony, RCA, Philips, Erato and Teldec, Argerich’s most important recordings were made for Deutsche Grammophon. In July 1960 she recorded a recital programme including Prokofiev’s Toccata Op. 11, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 and some works of Chopin. She continued to record throughout the 1960s, and with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Claudio Abbado set down excellent accounts of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major Op. 26 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, two of her repertoire favourites which she still plays today. The following year, in February 1968 with Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra, Argerich recorded stunning accounts of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11. In 1971 Argerich recorded her famous disc of Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor and four years later her no less excellent account of Chopin’s Préludes Op. 28. There are also outstanding recordings of both of Chopin’s piano sonatas. Later Deutsche Grammophon recordings include concertos by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Schumann and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21. Mention should also be made of Argerich’s 1979 Bach recordings which include the English Suite No. 2 in A minor BWV 807 and the Partita in C minor BWV 826.

Like Sviatoslav Richter, Argerich has her band of enthusiastic admirers. She has not made a solo studio recording for more than twenty years so it is not surprising that many of her live performances have appeared on disc, EMI have issued some live radio broadcasts from Netherlands Radio. The highlight is an astonishing performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit which shows Argerich on top form, even outclassing her own 1974 studio performance for Deutsche Grammophon. The coupling of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 12 is rather overwrought and virtuosic, with Argerich making these miniatures into showpieces. However, in 1976 whilst in Italy Argerich recorded an arresting account of Schumann’s Fantasie Op. 17 for EMI. For the same company she was soloist and conductor of the London Sinfonietta in sparkling recordings of Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D major and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Op. 19.

Recordings from chamber music festivals have also been issued, but the new recordings of such works as Chopin’s piano concertos do not improve on the earlier renditions. Argerich recorded a Chopin recital for EMI in 1965 at the time of her success in Warsaw. The recording was not issued until 1999 when it received mixed reviews, and it does not show Argerich at her best. A legendary performance, of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30, given in December 1982, was not issued until 1995. This is vintage Argerich with boundless drive, energy and an ability to generate a white-hot excitement at the piano.

Argerich continues to perform with others, and at her London appearances she has given exemplary readings of concertos by Ravel, Schumann and Prokofiev. Her star does not seem to have dimmed in the least, and Argerich continues not only as a force to be reckoned with on the concert platforms of the world, but as one of the few truly great pianists before the public today.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
ARGERICH, Martha: Martha Argerich Plays Mozart - Live from Tokyo 2005 (NTSC) Opus Arte
Classical Concert
ARGERICH, Martha: Piano Evening with Martha Argerich (A) (NTSC) TDKDVD
Classical Concert
BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Concerto No. 1 / MOZART, W.A.: Piano Concerto No. 18 (Argerich, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Ozawa, Jochum) BR-Klassik
CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Rubinstein, Warsaw Philharmonic, Rowicki, Argerich, Sinfonia Varsovia, Nowak) CD Accord
CHOPIN, F.: Piano Music (The Great Chopin Performances) Capriccio
Instrumental, Concerto, Instrumental
CHUNG, Myung-Whun / ARGERICH, Martha / ANGELICH, Nicholas: Live at the Théâtre Antique d'Orange (NTSC) Bel Air Classiques
Classical Concert
CLASSIC MASTERWORKS - Frederic Chopin Capriccio
Concert - DVORAK, A. / SHCHEDRIN, R. / FRANCK, C. / SHOSTAKOVICH, D. (Argerich, Maisky, N. Jarvi) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) Accentus Music
Classical Concert
Concert - DVORAK, A. / SHCHEDRIN, R. / FRANCK, C. / SHOSTAKOVICH, D. (Argerich, Maisky, N. Jarvi) (NTSC) Accentus Music
Classical Concert
HANDSTEIN, J.: Schatten und licht (Baumann, Blaukovitsch, Borcherding, Himmelstoss, Schild, Stockerl, Teichtmeister, Wachtveitl) BR-Klassik
Piano Duo Recital: Argerich, Martha / Baldocci, Gabriele - MOZART, W.A. / SHOSTAKOVICH, D. / RACHMANINOV, S. / MILHAUD, D. / RAVEL, M. Dynamic
PIANO LEGENDS - Michelangeli / Argerich / Brendel (5 DVD Box Set) (NTSC) Opus Arte
Classical Concert
Piano Recital: Argerich, Martha - TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / SCHUMANN, R. / BACH, J.S. / CHOPIN, F. / SCARLATTI, D. / GINASTERA, A. CD Accord
Instrumental, Concerto, Instrumental, Concerto, Instrumental
Piano Recital: Margulis, Jura / Argerich, Martha - BACH, J.S. / LISZT, F. / MOZART, W.A. / NOVA, S. / MUSSORGSKY, M.P. (Piano Solo con sordino) Oehms Classics
RAVEL, M.: Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2 / Piano Concerto / La valse (Argerich, Cologne Radio Symphony, Bertini) Capriccio
TDK SAMPLER 2008 - The Best of Classical Music on TDK - Opera, Concert, Ballet (NTSC) TDKDVD
Classical Concert
Violin Recital: Ricci, Ruggiero - BACH, J.S. / MATTHESON / PAGANINI / SARASATE / YSAYE / TCHAIKOVSKY / WIENIAWSKI (A Life for the Violin) Dynamic
Chamber Music

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