Richter’s Genius

Richter's Initials
Richter’s Initials

An Essay by Peter Fritz Walter

It was when first listening to Richter’s interpretations of Beethoven, Haydn, Liszt and Rachmaninov back in the 1970s that I got the idea to start genius research, which was an endeavor that filled me with passion and joy, to this very day.

The idea was novel to me. As long as I had been listening to Wilhelm Kempff, Glenn Gould, Claudio Arrau, or Martha Argerich, I took their brilliance and bravura for granted, not reflecting beyond the horizon of musical performance.

This changed on the spot with listening to Richter! It was as if destiny had opened me a door to a new realm of understanding life intelligently … and I was intrigued, and set to myself the project to investigate what makes the difference of Richter to the crowd of pianists out there?

I knew he was a painter, too, and that as a repetitor he has had an experience with listening to other musicians that many pianists (unfortunately) do not possess, focusing too much on their own bravura, thereby focusing almost narcissistically on their own ego and personality. Richter was incredible as a chamber musician, with his excellent sight reading ability, and his devotion to musical content, rather than his own person.

But my interest was not that of a musical critic, nor was it the musings of a musicologist. I wanted to know what human genius is really about, and my early intuitions with Richter’s genius was later confirmed by my in-depth studies of the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and others.

—See Peter Fritz Walter, Creative Genius: Four-Quadrant Creativity in the Lives and Works of Leonardo da Vinci, Wilhelm Reich, Albert Einstein, Svjatoslav Richter, and Keith Jarrett (Great Minds Series), Newark, Sirius-C Media Galaxy LLC, 2014.

It was his musical performance—and the very idea of a performance at that—which changed my life forever. I began to sense in his music, besides the logic and intelligence that shines from all his interpretations, extramusical content, a deep philosophy, an innate understanding of poetics, of drama, of great literature, of art as such.

The very idea of musical interpretation seen as a performance began to estrange me; in fact, it reminded me of the fact that at our conservatory, students would talk not of playing the piano but working the piano. Most of them, as I had seen and heard it, were caught in an outright mechanical attitude vis-à-vis the piano, and musical interpretation. That is, then, later the breed of standard pianists around the world, who can hammer down every piece; only that the music sounds like an etude, while with Richter even a bad etude would sound like music …, only that he refused to play etudes, except the Chopin Etudes

My essay is in four chapters, the first three rather short, and the last one being the essence of it all, quite extensive, and to the point. It was not easy to explicate those details, and I could do that only in my later years, and having heard and seen dozens of pianists in my life …

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