Argentine pianist Martha Argerich is iconic and you have more info here about why she is often named by many critics as one of the best piano players of all time, her life story and how she managed to rise to the top.
Martha’s Early Life and Ancestry
Martha Argerich was born on the 5th of June 1941 in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. Her roots can be traced to the Catalonia region of Spain (from her father’s side) and to Russia (from her mother’s side). The name Argerich is actually of Catalonian origin.
While her ancestors from her paternal side have settled in Buenos Aires since the XVIIIth century, her maternal grandparents arrived in Argentina in the XIXth century via the Jewish Colonization Association, an organization that aimed to help Jews immigrate from Eastern Europe to Latin America.
Her First Years As a Pianist
In order to be one of the very best, in many areas (such as tennis or piano) it is recommended that the children start learning as early as possible. Aware of that, Martha’s parents arranged for her to start playing the piano as soon as she was three years old.
At five years old, her new teacher would be the famous Vincenzo Scaramuzza, who had worked with other important pianists over time, such as Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Daniel Levy, and Mauricio Kagel. Vincenzo put much emphasis on the feeling and the importance of lyricism. Three years later, in 1949, Martha had her concert debut, at only eight years old.
In 1955, she moved with her family to Europe and started studying in Austria with the well-known pianist and composer, Friedrich Gulda. This was possible as a result of the fact that the president of Argentina, Juan Peron, had appointed her parents to the Argentine Embassy from Vienna as diplomats. Friedrich would be her teacher for 18 months.
Among other tutors she had during this time period we could mention Madeleine Lipatti (the widow of Dinu Lipatti), Polish – Belgian pianist Stefan Askenase, Italian classical pianist Maria Curcio, American concert pianist Abbey Simon and Georgian – Russian pianist Nikita Magaloff.
Winning Big in Competition
In 1957, at age 16, Martha became the second non-European to win at the Geneva International Music Competition, where she tied with French pianist Dominique Merlet. No other South American country would win at the competition until 1990 when Nelson Goerner, also an Argentine pianist, was named the winner.
Only three weeks later she also won the first prize at the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition. Since the first prize is not always awarded, Martha became only the fifth winner in the then nine-year history of the competition.
At the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition, she met Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, one of the greatest pianists of the century. At the age of 20, she asked him for private lessons, as she was experiencing an artistic crisis, but they only followed through with four lessons across a time period of a year and a half.
Martha recorded her first album in 1960. It featured works by Liszt, Chopin, and Brahms among others and received critical acclaim for it. She would go on and release dozens of other albums to this very day.
When she was 24, Martha won the International Chopin Piano Competition 1965 in Warsaw, the first and only time a Latin American has done so, which garnered her international recognition. Also in 1965, Martha made her debut in the United States of America by performing at the Lincoln Center during the Great Performers Series.
As she spoke about feeling lonely on stage when she has a solo performance since the 1980s Martha has focused more on chamber music and concertos, seldom staging solo performances.
Using her fame, influence, and popularity, Martha often promotes young talent, usually as a member of a jury at competitions or through her festival which takes place yearly, the Argerich Music Festival and Encounter, which had its debut in 1996 in Japan.
Her dedication was obvious during the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1980 as when Yugoslav pianist Ivo Pogorelić was eliminated during the third round, Martha left the jury in a sign of protest, calling him “a genius”. Other artists who have benefited from her support include Mauricio Vallina, Roberto Carnevale and Gabriela Montero.
Critical reception of her albums
As you can probably tell, the albums released by Martha Argerich tend to receive extremely positive reviews. Her 1985 album “Franck: Violin Sonata; Prokofiev: Violin Sonata Op. 94a” received 5/5 stars from AllMusicGuide, praising her passion. Although not all of her albums were reviewed by the website, from those that did, ten have received a perfect score.
Martha’s History at the Grammys
While continuing to work during the 1970s, she received her first Grammy Award nomination in 1978 for “Best Chamber Music Performance”. She went on to receive 15 nominations in this category alone, winning in 2005. Martha won two other Grammys at the 2000 and 2006 ceremonies for “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (With Orchestra)”.
In 2006 Martha was nominated for three awards, including her only nomination in the “Best Classical Album” category for “Martha Argerich & Friends: Live From the Lugano Festival”. In 2018 she received her 20th nomination overall.
Other Awards Received by Martha
Alongside the previously mentioned awards, she has many other awards to her name, such as the Claudio Arrau Memorial Medal which she received in 1997 and the Diamond Konex Award in 1999 which named her “The Most Important Classical Musician of the Decade” in her home country.
In 2012, Martha was inducted into the Gramophone’s Hall of Fame and in 2016 she was one of the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, alongside other iconic entertainers such as Al Pacino, Mavis Staples, and the band Eagles.
Her success is not limited to just the western world, as her winning the Praemium Imperiale and receiving The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, both in 2005 from Japan prove this. She is one of the few non-ethnic Japanese to receive The Order of the Rising Sun.
The Personal Life of Martha Argerich
Martha is currently single, but she was married three times. She was first married to Chinese composer and conductor Robert Chen in her early 20s but divorced from him in 1964. Together they have a daughter named Lyda Chen-Argerich. She would have another daughter, Annie Dutoit, during her marriage to Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit.
She was married to Charles between 1969 and 1973. Her last marriage was a brief one, with Croatian-American pianist Stephen Kovacevich, during the 1970s. The marriage resulted in Martha having her third daughter, Stephanie.
When she turned 50, in 1990, Martha discovered she had malignant melanoma, a type of cancer. She underwent treatment and the disease went into remission. In 1995, unfortunately, the cancer returned and metastasized to her lymph nodes and lungs.
In order to save her life, Martha decided to try an experimental treatment that took place at the John Wayne Cancer Institute located in Santa Monica. The treatment was overseen by famous oncologist Donald Morton. The experiment was a success and the cancer went into remission once more. As of today, Martha is cancer-free.
As a thank you for saving her life, Martha held a performance at Carnegie Hall with the benefits from it going to the Institute.
Portrayals of Martha in Media
Despite her fame, Martha is well-known for her aversion when it comes to the press. As a result, she may not be as well known to the general public as some of her peers.
Regardless, French-Swiss director Georges Gachot released in 2003 an acclaimed documentary with the title “Martha Argerich, Evening Conversation”, which presented a dialogue with the pianist and moments of her performances. A topic Martha especially touches on is her lonely early life as a student in Europe.
Her youngest daughter, Stéphanie Argerich Blagojevic, also directed a documentary about Martha. The documentary film is called “Bloody Daughter” (alternative title: “Argerich”) and was released in 2012 to mixed and positive reviews. The production is based on a film which had been shot since Stéphanie was a child. It won a Golden FIPA and a Michel Mitrani Award.
Despite staying away from the spotlight, Martha has maintained a successful career since the 1960s, being active even today, when she is in her late 70s.
Honored by the Kennedy Center
One of the most important rewards for a career that spanned over decades received by this famous pianist is the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, handed to her during the 39th annual event hosted by the renowned cultural center. Martha Argerich Kennedy Center was a keyword that held the headlines in the classical music world for months in 2016 when she became an honoree.
The event took place on December 4th, and it was followed by a reception at the White House. Among the Martha Argerich awards anyone can mention, this title must be among the most prestigious and well-deserved. Due to her illness and her choosing to live her life as a recluse, her appearance for the event was, indeed, a unique occasion.
According to any Martha Argerich biography you can find, she is so famous for canceling her engagements that no one offers her contracts. However, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t continue to play the music she enjoys, only that it’s a rare occasion for her to make public appearances. Therefore, the Kennedy Center Honors was an excellent opportunity for those who appreciate her to see her coming out of her shell to receive a prestigious award.
She expressed her gratitude and amazement at being granted such a famous award in one interview. In the same statement, she mentioned that her late mother had always imagined that she would be studying in the United States. However, fate would have happened differently since she went to study in Europe, where she remained all her life. She said that she would like to consider this award as a tribute to her mother.
The reason for her canceling appearances appears to be a severe cause of stage fright, something she has struggled with all her life.
Martha Argerich net worth
If you’re asking ‘who is Martha Argerich?’, the immediate answer you will get is that she’s a genius known for her amazing performances. Other information offered by the World Wide Web will tell you that she has three daughters from three different husbands, which makes her also a fascinating individual with a non-conventional life.
While Martha Argerich’s young years might have predicted her career and genius since she started studying the piano from the age of three years old, one couldn’t know a lot about the net worth she would end up having. Little information on the topic appears to be available, but according to some sources, her net worth is appreciated at 1.6 million dollars.
Seeing how publicity-shy the famous pianist Martha Argerich is and how she prefers to live her life away from the public eye, the figure mentioned above might seem high. But her wealth is the result of decades dedicated to playing the pianos, and she also enjoyed having a few recordings that sold well.
Martha Argerich might not be as wealthy as other famous musicians or pianists celebrated today. As a comparison, Lang Lang has a net worth of 30 million dollars, while Yuja Wang has a net worth of 20 million dollars.
Lyda Chen Argerich – an accomplished violinist
One interesting thing about Martha Argerich is that her legacy is not one that comes only in the shape of her career and years spent performing complex pieces. Her daughter, Lyda Chen, is also a well-known musician. Even though she didn’t follow in her mother’s footsteps and chose the violin, she is still the living proof that part of her mother’s talent was transmitted to her.
And it wasn’t just her mother to influence her on her path of following a musical career. She is the daughter of the Robert Chen Martha Argerich couple, her father being a composer and a conductor. Lyda Chen was born in Geneva and studied the violin at the Geneva Music Conservatory.
That happened during her early years. With her father being Robert Chen, the conductor, she went and took special classes at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music. Her tutor was Professor Lin Yao Ji, and her style enriched with what she learned during her time in China.
Lyda also found that she enjoyed playing the viola and taught herself how to play it. To follow her passion, she took the string quartet class held by Gabor Takacs and got a chamber music diploma from the Geneva Music Conservatory.
It must also be mentioned that she had the privilege to have her mother expand her musical horizons. Due to her incredible versatility in playing various pieces, she was involved in numerous chamber music concerts, but she didn’t shy away from playing solo pieces, too. Like her famous parents, she has already played all over the world, from Zurich to San Juan, from Tokyo to Nantes.
Lyda Chen is now a teacher, as well. She has held chamber music masterclasses in Spain, Bolivia, Argentina, Chine, Switzerland, and China. The viola appears to remain her most beloved instrument. Her favorite composers are Schumann, Beethoven, Franck, Shostakovich, and Dvorak. She even played with her mother as part of a quintet at the Lugano Festival.
The other Martha Argerich daughters
While Lyda Chen is a professional musician and plays an instrument like her mother, the other Martha Argerich children were also influenced by their prestigious mother. Annie Dutoit is Martha’s second daughter, from her marriage to conductor Charles Dutoit. She is also involved with music, but she preferred to become a music journalist and is now a professor at the Arizona State University. She is also a reciter and a pedagogue.
Stephanie Argerich Blagojevic is the famous pianist’s third daughter. Her career choice was that of a cinematographer, and her documentary, Bloody Daughter, was inspired by her being the child of two prestigious pianists, Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich. Her work was met with mixed feelings by critiques, but that doesn’t mean that her take on what it means to have two illustrious parents is not relevant to the world we all live in today.