Svjatoslav Richter

Richter's Initials

Svjatoslav Richter was a Russian-German pianist of world-renown. Richter is widely recognized as having been the greatest pianist of the 20th century; some consider him to be the greatest pianist of all times. Richter was known for his immense repertoire that encompassed, with few exceptions, the entire pianistic literature. His legendary perfection and the almost unbearable electric tension, catharsis and poetic transformation that his interpretations triggered within his audience.
—Bruno Monsaingeon

Richter is one of the most powerful communicators the world of music has produced in our time.
—Glenn Gould

Richter is an extraordinary phenomenon. The enormity of his talent staggers and enraptures.
—Dmitri Shostakovich

Richter is a gigantic musician. He plays the piano and the piano responds. He sings with the piano.
—Arthur Rubinstein

His personality was greater than the possibilities offered to him by the piano, broader than the very concept of complete mastery of the instrument.
—Pierre Boulez

A Retrospective

My interest in Svjatoslav Teofilovich Richter (1915-1997) rose up the very year of my entering law school, 1975. It was that year, when I was twenty years old, that marked my deep marriage with music for the decades to come. In these early years, coinciding with my late starting of piano performance, meeting with Richter’s immense repertoire was a deeply moving and ultimately transformative experience.

From 1975 to 1982, I acquired, from the little money I had left at the time, the whole of the available Richter performances on vinyl record. There was a number of them, however, that were sold out not only in Germany and France, but that I could not even order with a wholesale dealer in California where I had surprisingly found a few that had been sold out since long in Europe. In the summer of 1982, I contacted Richter’s concert agent in Munich, Mr. Metaxas, telling him I wanted to give a letter to Maestro Richter, and he pointed me to a recital in Paris, the upcoming month.

In the letter, I was telling Richter of the sad state of affairs regarding the collections of his records available in Germany, France and the United States. Then I went to Paris and attended his Szymanowski recital, yet was unable to meet him as he went to the hotel right after each of the two concerts. Eventually, I talked to Nina Dorliac, his partner, and handed her the letter. She promised me a reply which I never received, yet to my great astonishment, one after one of the sold-out recordings that I had listed in the letter were republished over the coming years.

At that time, I was taking piano lessons with A. S., a professor at Saarland Music Conservatory in Saarbrücken, who was a student of Walter Gieseking, Wilhelm Backhaus and Edwin Fischer, a regionally famed pianist. But he was playing only a tiny part of piano repertoire, mostly Mozart and Beethoven, and did not at all appreciate my interest in Russian and French composers. Actually he simply could not play them.

In addition, he lost the score of a piano etude I had composed and given to him for evaluation, and of which I had not made a copy. I took this as the main reason for stopping the rather expensive private lessons with him and continued on my own, simply listening to Richter’s recordings over and over, every day for at least two hours, and slowly, I began to understand what makes the brick and mortar of great musical performance and authentic rendering of musical masterworks.

It turned out I could not possibly have found a better piano teacher, and my progress was astounding everybody around.

Nothing but listening to Richter was the best teaching I could ever have found. Please note that at that time, there was no Internet yet, and Richter was almost never featured on German radio and television, so I had the records alone.

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