Daniel Barenboim: My life with Martha Argerich

Daniel Barenboim: My life with Martha Argerich


norman lebrecht

May 23, 2016

The conductor has written an affecting memoir of his life history with his fellow-Argentine pianist.

I’ve known Martha Argerich since 1949. There was a house in Buenos Aires, owned by a former violinist and businessman, where chamber music was played every Friday. All the great musicians who came to Argentina – Adolph Busch, Igor Markevitch, Sergiu Celibidache – could be found there. That’s where I first met Martha. I was seven, she was eight. We played together underneath the piano…. There is hardly anyone I have known for so long.

Read on here (auf Deutsch).

barenboim argerich2


  • Sue says:

    For a minute there I thought I read “Stephen Kovacevich; My Life with Martha Argerich”.

    Note to self: don’t have long hair when you’re over 60, a public performer and grey.

  • The gentleman Mr DB is referring to is Ernesto Rosenthal. Famous for his soirées on Thursday or Wednesday [I think] evenings here in Buenos Aires. It was there that Martha was heard by Gulda and it was there that they met and how she finally went to Europe to study with him.

  • Delphine1962 says:

    Dear Norman, I thought I would translate the rest (some a bit freely!):

    “There are few people I have known as long as Martha. Even when she was a child she had the completely compelling ability to play the piano. From the beginning, she wasn’t merely a mechanical virtuoso, with great fingers and speed. She was, of course that, but above and beyond this she could bring out an extraordinary array of colour, and she had an imagination which few virtuosi possess.

    The piano was Martha’s main instrument, although she took lessons in conducting from Hans Swarowsky, when she and her family moved to Vienna in the 1950s. Her mother thought that it might be important to learn how to conduct. It was a very interesting group of people then, in Vienna; Zubin Mehta and Claudio Abbado were among the others who studied with Swarowsky

    Martha’s mother and my own were very good friends, but only later, and in Europe. In 1949, my family moved to Israel. the Argerichs stayed in Argentina and moved later on to Vienna. During those years in between, we had very little contact; we weren’t children amy more, but still not completely grown up. As children, we weren’t totally dedicated to music: we were absolutely normal kids.

    Martha has remained a completely normal person. The friends she has made are always very close to her. Our relationship is musical in nature, obviously, but there is also a deeply human love on both sides. However, over the decades we didn’t always perform together regularly; later, in Paris ,we performed two or three concerts with the Orchestra de Paris and in the 1980s we gave a single concert together as pianists. It was in Berlin, in 1996, that we started again she was one of the first guests at the State Opera Festival. It’s only in the past five years that we have played regularly together.

    Martha has an enormous presence. The State Opera Orchestra has adored her since she gave her first concerts with them three years ago. We took the same programmes to The Berlin Phil, then in London, Paris and Munich. I asked her at the time if she would like to do a concert to celebrate her 75th birthday; she immediately said no, she wouldn’t like that – it would mean too much emphasis on herself. So instead I suggested a benefit concert For the State Opera Orchestra and she was much happier with that- that’s the end of person she is. I mentioned this to the Orchestra because there was a special concert scheduled at the Opera actually on her birthday. The Orchestra made a big exception and in the afternoon organised an afternoon birthday concert at the Philharmonie, with the special concert taking place in the evening at the Schiller Theatre. That’s shows you how much the Orchestra love her!

    Martha has never stopped growing and developing. She has been involved with chamber music for years. It is always a joy to play with her. We have kept our Argentinian soul intact since our childhood. Argentinians are quite sentimental people and we both share this – it’s is very important for both us to play regularly in Argentina and to be active there. Three years ago, we began playing in Buenos Aires with the East-West Divan Orchestra., and we go there every July-August and the Orchestra asked me if I would be ok with creating a special partnership with Martha, which of course we did.

    A a result, there is a very close -shall we say -sentimental relationship between Martha and the East-West Divan Orchestra. This Summer, the orchestra will play in Buenos Aries, then Salzburg, Lucerne, a the Berlin Waldbühne and at the Proms, and Martha will be be with us at all these concerts.

    The most impotent project for us both is the shared piano recitals. For me, these evenings are pure Heaven. Martha – and I hope she won’t be cross with me for saying this! – isn’t a particularly practical person. She needs other people to organise things for her. One could say that she’s very dreamy! – but she is always unbelievably well prepared from the first rehearsal onwards.

    We might be both pianists, but we have never been rivals. I’m the first to say that her playing is better then mine. She thinks that I can do certain musical things well – and I tell her that her Mozart isn’t any less interesting than mine! Our musical friendship is based on complete trust and mutual understanding. We both come from the same pianistic origins; her teacher was also my Father’s teacher; Vicente Scaramuzza was a very famous professor, who was originally from Italy. He was a great influence on the Argentinian piano scene.

    Martha and I are also part of the same pianistic grounding. When I saw the the first video playing piano duet, I could see that the position of the fingers and hands was identical – one could think that it was a single person with four hands. IN rehearsal, we don;t need to talk to each other very much, the physical side of things comes completely naturally, and when we play together, I don’t feel any difference between us.

    We have both tried to do something together about the situation concerning the Syrian refugees. We spoken about the fact that Argentina has an old tradition of supporting and welcoming refugees. The country saved many Jewish lives at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, including Martha’s family on her mother’s side and my own.

    We both think that Europe alone cannot solve the problem of the refugees. In Argentina, there are three million Muslims who are completely integrated. There are three established communities in Argentina; Christian, Muslim and Jewish. We believe that all three would welcome more Syrians to the country.

    We have some plans together: in 2018, which will be the 100th Anniversary of Debussy’s death, we ant to play several of the composer’s works. However, Martha doesn’t like to make plans that far ahead – for her, 2017 still seems a long way away! In comparison, I’m planning with the State Orchestra as far as 2020 – which is completely foreign to Martha, and so our playing together remains one of spontaneity, and it’s my greatest hope that we can keep on playing together – it is my greatest joy.

  • Maggie Herron says:

    Thank you so much for your translation. Martha is my heroine. Perhaps her long hair gives her an added inner strength. It’s a big part of her, to be loved, not judged.

  • John Harding says:

    I became a fan of Martha’s late in life – even though I was in and around Lugano, Switzerland, since my early 20’s. Her playing is divine – the best and, for the last ten years, I have followed her playing closely. I have yet to see her play, live, but should be getting the chance soon. Wish I had known about her in my early 20’s…

    • Bruce says:

      It’s funny – I first heard of her when I was 12 or 13 (1977-ish) and my flute teacher told me I needed to buy (or make my parents buy me) this recording http://tinyurl.com/jzu8xj5 . Within the next few years I started getting seriously interested in classical music, and whenever I thought I should get to know this Chopin B-flat Minor sonata [or Ravel Piano Concerto, or whatever] that I kept hearing about, there would pretty often be a recording by “that pretty lady who accompanied Galway,” and I would buy it. It didn’t take long to figure out that she was more than just a good piano player; I learned that there were lots of other really good pianists, but nobody sounded like her.

      She’s still one-of-a-kind — long may she (and that glorious gray mane of hers) wave.

      P.S. If my ears are to be believed, Galway and Argerich had indeed recorded together before, sort of: http://tinyurl.com/jxfhm2o

  • Ida Harries says:

    Close your eyes – do not think of anything else (especially that glorious mane of hair) and ENJOY the wonderful sound of music being played by this pianist who reigns above all others alive today. Ah – but take time to watch those fingers as they caress the ivory keys – unbelievable . Stop criticising and enjoy the wonder of perfection.

  • Howard says:

    Fascinating, to say the least. I don’t think Europe will have the chance of entertaining more refugees- they’ll have self destructed by then! However, maybe Mr. Barenboim would have more luck convincing Israel to take a few hundred thousand? ( I don’t think he would even see it as a problem whatsoever …?)

  • MaryJo Cally says:

    Thank you so very much for this translation. Maestro Barenboim’s admiration and love for his dear friend and colleague is very inspiring.

  • ST says:

    Hello.Is this from a chapter of his memoir or does this post only address the article in the Berlin paper? I can’t seem to find the actual memoir with this title online

  • Austen Biss says:

    It has taken a few years but I now confess to be totally overawed by Miss Argerich. As far as I am concerned, she can do no wrong. An incredible artist who has the ability to captivate, enthrall and move the listener to tears of joy. I am nearly eighty but last evening I listened for the umpteenth time to her 1965 Debut Chopin Recital and both my wife (long-haired) and I were left emotionally week-kneed at the end. Martha Argerich is a beautiful genius.

  • Dr.Vincent R Andretta says:

    I first saw Ms Argerich performing in Saratoga with the Philadefia Orchestra. I was blown away. Since then I have followed her performances and seen what a brilliant and diversified presence she is. Beautiful, charismatic, and intellectually gifted. I fell in love. It is wonderful to care for someone who has given you so much joy!!!!