When I started my genius research at that same time, I began to reflect about what it was that made Richter so different from other pianists of that time, and generally, of all times? I began to wonder how his unique genius of musical performance could be put in words?
I noticed that Richter’s genius was not just musical performance in the strict sense of the word. It is noteworthy to remind the conversation Richter had in Tokyo with the director of a piano house that is featured in Monsaingeon’s movie, and where, upon the amused remark that it was notorious that ‘Maestro Richter does not seem to like pianos very much,’ he replied that indeed he liked music more, and upon the witty reply that Maestro Richter seems to not like pianists very much either, he replied, he in fact liked musicians more. These little funny interjections must be understood right in context so that the reader may see their significance, for, to be true, they were not meant as jokes!
—Bruno Monsaingeon, Svjatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002 and Richter – The Enigma / L’Insoumis / Der Unbeugsame, NVC Arts 1998 (DVD)
There is more than a grain of truth in the rumors about Richter the piano house director mentioned. Richter has been reproached often in his musical career that he didn’t care about the quality of pianos he performed on, and this is true,he really did not care. He had fostered, as he voiced it in the movie, the magic belief that once he worried about those peripheral issues, those concerns could sidetrack him from his strong focus on the music he was going to interpret.
It is also true that Richter did not think high of most pianists, even avoided them, and in his circle of friends were no noted pianists of the time, but rather, art dealers, painters, cinematographers, poets, and high-rank composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Britten. His visits to Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz in New York City, during his US tour, as they are featured in the movie, were formal and rather pointed events, while Richter had no enduring friendship with any of these and other great pianists of the time. In fact, in Richter’s Notebooks, many biting remarks can be found about a number of pianists and their way to slop over details in musical scores, and a famous and very talented musician is among them, Glenn Gould. He seemed to be angered that Gould did not obey Bach’s repetition marks in the Goldberg Variations, while Gould was a great fan of Richter.
Fact is that Richter did not head toward a pianistic career at all. He wanted to become a painter during his adolescence, and was a painter actually all through his life, and his paintings were often shown in exhibitions in Russia, France and later also in the United States and Australia. It is important to retain this detail here, for it is essential for understanding Richter’s genius, which was more than just musical. When Richter started to work at the Odessa Opera as a repetitor, at the age of fifteen, his motivation was primarily to make some money and get on his own feet. For it has to be seen that just a year before, Richter’s father was killed by Russian nationalists in Odessa, who mistook him for a ‘German spy,’ and Richter might have wanted to contribute to the household income.
Richter did not see a career perspective yet in the musical domain. He was not yet sure of himself at that time; after all he was still a youngster. That was in 1930. Four years later, Richter gave his first recital to a greater audience in a business club in Odessa, while he has given many small recitals within the larger family, and as a child already for peers, but that were not meeting the expectations of his father, a German pianist. Richter’s mother, however, from a noble Russian family, insisted that no strict guidance should be imposed upon Svjatoslav; his mother in fact trusted her son’s innate genius.