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Arts & EventsMoriarty’s Musings: Béla Bartók in the Hands of Martha Argerich

Moriarty’s Musings: Béla Bartók in the Hands of Martha Argerich

Moriarty’s Musings: Béla Bartók in the Hands of Martha Argerich

As you may or may not know, I am – and I imagine will be – struggling with my First Symphony, In Memoriam Béla Bartók for quite some time. I’ve given myself the possibly overgenerous time frame for three symphonies, one opera and possibly a one-man show completed within… uh… 10 to12 years!

I’m 71 and the lucky survivor of heart failure five years ago.

Can I possibly live to 83?

Am I that much the cockeyed optimist?

Absolutely!!

At any rate, with that presumptuous confession over with, my pilgrimage to the heart of Béla Bartók was destined to come crashing down.

The most startling realization I’ve experienced recently arose from finally hearing, after many interruptions and long delays, Martha Argerich’s complete performance of Bartók’s Piano Concerto.

I had, of course, worshipped this modern masterpiece from the first moment I’d heard it during my four-year stay in the “deserto” or wilderness of Dartmouth College.

John the Baptist’s “voice crying in the wilds” or “vox clamantis in deserto” was the only visible sign left of Dartmouth’s initially “missionary” origins. Having arrived in Hanover, New Hampshire, from another four-year stay with the Jesuits in Detroit, Michigan… well… Dartmouth’s idea of a “voice in the wilderness” had more of Christ’s “wolf in sheep’s clothing” than John the Baptist. I’m sure John the Baptist would have played the Jesuit, warning this repeatedly lapsing Catholic against Reformation creations such as Dartmouth College.

I am saving the link to Ms. Argerich’s performance for later in this article in order to prepare you and hopefully incite an eager leap into the thrillingly ferocious musical world of, it would seem, feminism in great art!

"Whether or not that is how Ms. Argerich looks at it, I find her a most thrillingly ferocious feminist!"

Whether or not that is how Ms. Argerich looks at it, I find her a most thrillingly ferocious feminist!

However, I have no way of knowing just how committed a feminist this instantly impressive, secular Mother Superior actually is. The impression lasts, however, as the concert goes on and we see that the orchestra behind Ms. Argerich is almost entirely female. Whether this virtual giantess of the piano chose that orchestra because of its predominantly female make-up, or because of the distinctively Japanese history within the Toho Gakuen School of Music Orchestra behind her, is as much your guess as it is mine. Whatever your own hunches are, the stunningly powerful presence and performance of Martha Argerich demands repeated listening!

Why?

Martha Argerich, after this performance particularly, has become this listener’s sublimely unrelenting addiction.

Her hands and fingers are a virtual wolf pack!

My initial experience with this pianist and her literal den of digital carnivores was, to say the least, so intimidating that I thought her a performer from more of a cave than a salon. A mother bear that feeds on notes the way machine guns scoured enemies in World War II.

The truly impressive shock comes in the second movement!!

No one – and I doubt if any other pianist will… or even try to will himself or herself… into Martha Argerich’s singularly divine interpretation of this concerto’s second movement.

Out of the ferocious brilliance of Ms. Argerich’s artistry, this second movement of Bartók’s Piano Concerto reveals such a stunning level of sensitivity and Gibraltar-like patience, one might feel ourselves hearing Job in his replies to the Devil. The dignity and God-like repose of its utterances are… well… indescribable. The movement is so breathtaking a journey into a performer’s faith and understanding of her composer, Béla Bartók, and his entire life.

Now, I think, is the time to bump up one of the most unforgettable delights of my life: Martha Argerich performing Béla Bartók’s Piano Concerto.

Last week I was waxing worshipfully over Sergei Rachmaninoff and Olga Kern.

Rachmaninoff is one of the three composers I will be, if I’m lucky, dedicating one of my three symphonies to.

As Bartók and Rachmaninoff are as different from each other as they are actual twins in their life’s emigrating dedication to individual freedom, the two women who have, in my mind, served them best, Martha Argerich and Olga Kern, respectively, perhaps understand their male composers in ways that neither ordinary nor extraordinary male pianists ever could.

Martha Argerich is from Argentina.

Martha Argerich

To what extent did Evita Perón’s reputation as… well… Evita!… deeply influence Ms. Argerich?

One thing is for sure: Evita Perón could never have found the exquisitely lingering patience of Martha Argerich’s love song to the second movement of Bartók’s Piano Concerto.

Regardless, it takes a strongly realistic soul, male or female, to carry sensitivity to depths we’ve rarely heard before.

The strength beneath it doesn’t request your respect.

It commands it.

For that kind of authority?

“Yes, Ma’am! Your wish is almost my deepest desire!!”

Here she is performing the very Rachmaninoff Concerto # 3that I’ve declared belongs only to Olga Kern.

Listen for yourself to see whether or not I’m right about Olga Kern.

No, Olga doesn’t even try to impress us with this movement’s first statement.

Only to sensitize us!!

To prepare us for her journey with Sergei!!

Not competing with Sergei and that great pianist’s gigantic hands!!!

Making love to Sergei.

Where does that leave Ms. Argerich now?

In one of those lifelong “learning moments” that never end.

Here is Ms. Argerich with an approach to Robert Schumann that should also have been applied to her own version of Rachmaninoff’s Third.

Argentinian Martha Argerich

Treating Rachmaninoff’s tour de force as mostly a tour de force destroys the main essence of theater art, whether it be found in music, plays or dance: “Know the story you are telling and don’t go showing off while you do it!”

There was nothing showy about Ms. Argerich’s understanding of Béla Bartók’s second movement for the Piano Concerto.

That single movement was almost as powerful as Olga Kern’s performance of the entire Rach Three!

Why?

The depth of love and faith it must have taken to shape Bartók’s chorale-like chords with a virtually frightening depth of understanding.

“Just how long can the meaning of this chord, and/or the tensions within it, be sustained?”

Knowing the answers to that question, Martha Argerich captured the meanings of not just Bartók’s Piano Concerto but a sounding-out of his entire life!

Why am I obsessing on the meaning of music rather than the virtuosity found in these great musical challenges?

Meaning and not virtuosity is what ensures a creation’s possible eternity.

Those who can share meaning more frequently than they share virtuosity are carried with their composer beyond simple fame into History’s Eternity.

If not, at least their hearts and their aesthetics have been led to a searing glimpse of Life’s immeasurable sacredness.

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