Martha Argerich: Part 1

“I love to play the piano, but I don’t want to be a pianist.”

– Martha Argerich

Thomas May once wrote that “an encounter with the searing artistry of Martha Argerich can resemble a religious conversion experience.” Alex Ross, writing in The New Yorker, likened the experience to what can “only be described as a possession, a visitation”. Indeed, Argerich, who turns 75 on June 5 of this year, has been called the “High Priestess” of the piano, a “goddess” who inspires a cult-like devotion among audiences, her fellow musicians and artists.

Argerich is one of the most enigmatic figures in classical music today, a living legend who is regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time, yet someone who readily admits that it is not a gift she sought, nor one she is particularly comfortable with. “I didn’t want to be a pianist in the first place,” she once famously stated. “I still don’t want to be, but it is the only thing that I can do, more or less.” Despite her legendary reputation, Argerich has paradoxically played only one solo recital in decades, instead preferring to play concertos or chamber music with musicians whose company she enjoys. A further contradiction is that her playing, whether it be Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, Strauss or Messiaen, feels entirely personal, yet is always completely in the service of the composer. “She seems both to own the music completely and to discover it on the spot,” Matthew Gurewitsch noted. “Her interpretations are never standard or middle-of-the-road. Yet, while one listens, there seems to be just one way. Hers.”

The bottom line is that, as Anthony Tommassini wrote in The New York Times, once you’ve heard Argerich play, you never forget it. “She is a colossal technician, a powerfully intuitive musician and an electrifying performer.”

In this On And Off The Record podcast, the first of two programs dedicated to Martha Argerich, Adriaan Fuchs traces Argerich’s early years as a “wunderkind” in Buenos Aires, her formative studies with Friedrich Gulda, her triumphs at the Busoni and Geneva International Piano Competitions in 1957, and her rise to international prominence when she won the seventh International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1965, at age 24.

For part 2 of this two-part program, please visit: Martha Argerich: Part 2

Podcast Track List

1) First Movement (Allegro maestoso) from Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major, S. 124 (Liszt)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Claudio Abbado (conductor)
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded: 1968

2) Preludes Nos. 16 – 24 from Preludes, Op. 28 (Chopin)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Recorded: 1975

3) Third Movement (Allegro assai) from Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (Mozart)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Alberto Castellanos (conductor)
Gran Orquestra Clásica de LR1
Auditorium Radio El Mundo, Buenos Aires
Recorded: “live” on “Radio Nacional” (Argentine national radio service) in 1950.

4) First Movement (Allegro affettuoso) from Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (Schumann)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (conductor)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Recorded: “live” in July 1992.

5) “Scarbo” from Gaspard de la nuit (Ravel)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Recorded: 1974

6) Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 in D-flat major, S.244 (Liszt)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Recorded: 1960

7) Toccata in C Major, Op. 11 (Prokofiev)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Recorded: 1960

8) First movement (Allegro maestoso) from Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 (Chopin)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Witold Rowicki (conductor)
Warsaw National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Recorded: “live” on March 13, 1965 in the Concert Hall of the National Philharmonic, Warsaw.

9) Third Movement (Allegro, ma non troppo) from Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 (Prokofiev)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Claudio Abbado (conductor)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded: 1967


Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major (Liszt)
Martha Argerich (piano)
Christoph von Dohnányi (conductor)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded: “live” on September 13, 1981.

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 (Prokofiev)
Martha Argerich (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
André Previn (conductor)
Recorded: “live” in May 1977

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