But these events are rather insignificant because they were not yet based upon a decision.
Given Richter’s multiple talents, and his firm roots in fine art, painting, and drawing, as well as his early exposition to the theater, the Opera in Odessa, where he had worked as a repetitor. Thus, he was not clear about his mission and his life’s work until he took the somewhat surprising decision to take formal piano lessons with Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow. And Neuhaus to comment in his book:
‘It has to be seen that in the normal course of events the pianists that teachers of his rank accept for their master classes have gone through a full-cycle pianistic education. Richter had done nothing of that.’
—Heinrich Neuhaus, The Art of Piano Playing, London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1973, first published in 1958
He had played in night clubs and and accompanied fanciful opera singers in what was considered, at the time, a ‘provincial’ town. While Neuhaus accepted him, immediately sensing his genius, Richter’s pianistic career was all but taken for granted.
Despite the fact that his intellectual, musical and manual capacities were enormous, Richter’s fate was not an easy one. He was meeting with lots of indifference, even reject in his early years. He goes over all that in a light mood in Monsaingeon’s movie, but we must put ourselves in his skin for a moment to feel the hurt and frustration he suffered for more of a decade of his career. Audiences were reacting with estrangement, because Richter’s play was markedly different from all they had heard before.
In Prague, for example, where later he was adored like a god, he first encountered blatant reject and ridicule. In London, in 1961, despite his brilliant Carnegie Hall début just a year before, he really faced a hostile reaction from British critics until his memorable performance of the Liszt concertos later that year.
When fame hit Richter, it hit him strongly, totally, and virtually until his leaving the earth plane. While he ended his life with a short period of reduced memory and sight, and suffered from a nasty distortion of his musical pitch, he was productive all through his life cycle.
More importantly, it is significant to see how focused he was once he had made his choice. Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, Pierre Boulez, to name only these, from his closer circle of friends, tried repeatedly to get him into conducting, but he is said to have resigned with the statement: ‘I do not like three things, analysis, power, and conducting.’
But of course, from a career consultant’s point of view, Richter was right on spot, as when there is no real need to change one’s main orientation, one should not do so,as this will lead to energy dissipation and a confusion of one’s main audience. Richter did it right.