Sviatoslav Richter

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About Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Richter’s live 1958 recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a work hitherto regarded as almost impossible to play, established his reputation as a pianist of technical fearlessness and bold characterization, even before the Soviet authorities finally allowed him to perform outside the Eastern Bloc in 1960. Born in northwest Ukraine in 1915, he was—lessons from his father apart—essentially self-taught when he worked as a repetiteur at the Odessa Opera and Ballet and made his public debut playing Chopin in 1934 before studying at the Moscow Conservatory under teacher Heinrich Neuhaus (1937–46). In 1940, transfixed by Prokofiev’s first playthrough of his ferocious Sonata No. 6, Richter became a staunch champion of the composer; he gave the 1943 premiere of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, learning the work in just four days. Also central to his repertoire were works by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt, though his range extended to works by Britten, Berg, and Webern. Even in his final decade, he was learning new repertoire, including Gershwin’s Piano Concerto (his genial 1993 performance was recorded). While Richter sometimes gave the impression of communing with the music rather than with his audience, his recordings reveal a rare authenticity and lack of showiness to his playing, notwithstanding his obvious virtuosic capabilities. Intensely private, he was nevertheless persuaded by the filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon to give a rare and revealing interview shortly before his death in 1997.

Zhitomir, Russia
March 20, 1915

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