Classical pianist Martha Argerich is the focus of an intimate documentary, Bloody Daughter, by her youngest child, Bern-born Stéphanie Argerich.
The Franco-Swiss production, which looks at the issue of reconciling motherhood and a career, is being shown for the first time in Switzerland at the Solothurn Film Festival, which runs until January 31.
Martha Argerich, considered a “goddess” by her daughter and the greatest living pianist by many others, is a Swiss citizen and performs every year at the Martha Argerich Project in Lugano.
swissinfo: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Stéphanie Argerich: I’ve been thinking about Bloody Daughter for about ten years. At the beginning I was following my mother alone on tour in Japan, Argentina and Poland. But I lost motivation working on my own and moved onto other things. After the birth of my first son I wanted to finish the film. My mother has always fascinated me as someone who really should be filmed.
swissinfo: So for you Martha Argerich is not a piano legend but simply your mum?
S.A.: Absolutely. During the filming I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t see her the same way as the general public, and so I had to keep my distance in order to maintain a coherent narrative. My mother is such a complex person that it was really difficult in the editing to decide what to show and what to leave out.
swissinfo: Are you worried classical music fans may be disappointed by your film, as it doesn’t really talk about music?
S.A.: I don’t see why. If they admire my mother, they will be happy to discover other sides of her life. Some might be shocked to see Martha Argerich in pyjamas. But that’s their problem not mine! That’s how I’ve always known her.
swissinfo: In the film you say, ‘I’m the daughter of a goddess’. What did you mean?
S.A.: It’s obviously supposed to be humorous. I hope viewers understand that. She is so unbelievably beautiful and talented. She has this magic about her which I truly believe in. It’s difficult to explain, but I believe there are people who are different, in their own category. My mother is one of those exceptional people.
swissinfo: But isn’t being the daughter of a goddess a burden – or does it help you?
S.A.: Both. On the one hand living with someone like my mother is deeply inspiring. But on the other, when I look at myself I wonder what I’m doing with my life. You can’t help comparing yourself to her. Since I was a young girl I have always realised that I could never achieve what she has.
Growing up with that kind of burden is not easy when you are trying to build self-confidence. At the same time she has a very magnetic, powerful personality which is difficult to detach yourself from. That requires a Herculean effort.
swissinfo: What did your mother think of the film?
S.A.: She says she is ugly and says uninteresting things, and she doesn’t like to see herself in pyjamas (laughs).
swissinfo: There is a very special moment in the film when we learn that your mother lost the custody of her first daughter, Lyda, as she was not capable of looking after her.
S.A.: Yes, it’s very powerful. The film title is not just about me. It’s also about Lyda to a certain extent. This is a taboo subject in our family. You could say the story of Lyda represents the goddess’s dark side
swissinfo: What nationality is your mother?
S.A.: She’s [Argentinian] but also a Swiss citizen and lives in Brussels. She doesn’t have strong ties to a particular country, whether it is Belgium, Switzerland or Argentina. She belongs to those people who have no clear roots. Her country is her music and the musicians.
swissinfo: But Switzerland was not just a footnote in her life…
S.A.: No, of course not. She was very happy in Switzerland. Her international career began when she won the Geneva International Music Competition [in 1957]. This made a big impression on her. She also lived here with her mother, and in Geneva she struck up a long-standing friendship with the Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire. When she looks back on her childhood here, she talks about her fascination with the security and sense of protection in Geneva – being able to leave your house and car doors open.
swissinfo: Do you think your mother is misunderstood in the music world?
S.A.: Perhaps. She is a rebel and has a very democratic view on life that doesn’t fit well with the rules of the musical world with its stars and privileges. During the Martha Argerich Project in Lugano, all the artists are paid the same. But obviously this egalitarian approach shocks promoters and music executives.
swissinfo: One of your mother’s strongest character traits is said to be her generosity.
S.A.: That’s true. She is a very generous mother in a musical profession in which generosity is often missing. She is so generous that she is often taken advantage of. She doesn’t know how to say no and is afraid of generating hostile reactions. Sometimes it’s easier for her to do what people ask and then move onto something else, so that people leave her in peace (laughs).
Stéphanie Argerich was born in Bern in 1975. She lives and works in Geneva.
Her parents are the pianists Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich.
She has Swiss, Argentinian and Belgian nationality. She studied Russian in Moscow and photography at Parson’s School of Design in New York. She also studied cinema and directing in Paris. She has produced various documentaries about the classical music world, broadcast on television channels like Arte or Mezzo.
Bloody Daughter is her first long film. The Franco-Swiss production was premiered at the Rome Film Festival last December. It is being show in Switzerland for the first time at the Solothurn Film Festival.
Martha Argerich was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1941.
She began playing piano at the age of three. She studied under the Italian pianist Vincenzo Scaramuzza (1885-1968), who held Argentinian nationality.
In 1955, she travelled to Europe to study. She was the student of the Austrian pianist Friedrich Gulda.
In 1957, she won both the Geneva International Music Competition and the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition, within three weeks of each other. In 1965, she won the prestigious Chopin Competition in Warsaw.
Her career then took off. She has recorded in the most famous concert halls with the best musical directors and orchestras in the world. She retired twice, but still works as a concert pianist. Today she plays solo and mostly chamber music with friends.
She has won three Grammy awards, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale and Order of the Rising Sun awards and the French Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2012, she was voted into Gramophone’s Hall of Fame.
She has her own festivals in Lugano, Switzerland, and in Beppo, Japan.
She has three daughters by three husbands.
(Translated from Spanish by Simon Bradley), swissinfo.ch