Svyatoslav Richter – Pianist between East and West


Svyatoslav Teofilovich Richter was one of the most important pianists of the 20th century. His life and art were shaped by the political and cultural upheavals of his time. He was born in 1915 in Zhitomir, now Ukraine, the son of a German organist and a Russian merchant’s daughter. He grew up bilingual and received musical training from his parents. He largely taught himself to play the piano and made his debut as a pianist in Odessa at the age of 19.

In 1937 he went to Moscow, where he studied with the famous piano pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus, who called him a genius. He became friends with Sergei Prokofiev, who dedicated three of his piano sonatas to him. He became a celebrated artist in the Soviet Union, but for a long time was not allowed to travel abroad because he had German relatives. His father was executed as a spy during the Stalin era, and his mother emigrated to Germany.

It was not until 1960 that he received permission to go to the West, where he was immediately hailed as a sensation. He played in the world’s great concert halls, including with the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan. He was known for his enormous virtuosity, tonal sensitivity and unconventional interpretation. He mastered a vast repertoire ranging from Bach to contemporary composers. He had a special affinity for Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, whose works he played with great depth and expressiveness.

Richter, however, was not a star in the conventional sense. He shied away from the limelight and the media. He hated planning concerts long in advance or making studio recordings. He preferred to play in small, dark rooms by the light of a floor lamp and by sheet music. He founded his own festival in an old barn in France, where he played chamber music with musician friends. He was an idiosyncratic and uncompromising artist, always looking for new challenges.

Richter died in Moscow in 1997 at the age of 82. He left behind a rich musical legacy that fascinates and inspires to this day. He was a pianist between East and West, who crossed the borders of music and opened new horizons.

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