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Quotes about Yudina
Sviatoslav Richter, Notebooks and Conversations
- Maria Veniaminovna Yudina was a monstre sacré. I knew her, but only from afar – it has to be said that she was so odd that everyone avoided her. For her own part, she showed herself somewhat suspicious and critical of me. She said of me: ‘Richter? Hmm… As a pianist, he’s good for Rachmaninoff.’
From her lips, that wasn’t a compliment, even though she herself occasionally played Rachmaninoff. She had graduated from the Petrograd Conservatory in the early twenties, at the same time as Vladimir Sofronitsky – a giant of a man who played Schumann and Debussy magnificently and Scriabin like nobody else. By the end of her life Yudina was an outrageous figure, a sort of Clytemnestra, always dressed in black and wearing sneakers for her concerts. She was immensely talented and a keen advocate of the music of her own time: she played Stravinsky, whom she loved, Hindemith, Krenek and Bartók at a time when these composers were not only unknown in the Soviet Union but effectively banned. And when she played Romantic music, it was impressive – except that she didn’t play what was written. Liszt’s Weinen und Klagen was phenomenal, but Schubert’s B-flat major Sonata, while arresting as an interpretation, was the exact opposite of what it should have been, and I remember a performance of the Second Chopin Nocturne that was so heroic that it no longer sounded like a piano but a trumpet. It was no longer Schubert or Chopin, but Yudina.
- During the war she had given The Well-Tempered Clavier at a splendid concert, even if she polished off the contemplative Prelude in B-flat minor from Book Two at a constant fortissimo. At the end of the concert, Neuhaus, whom I was accompanying, went to congratulate her in her dressing-room.
'But, Maria Veniaminovna,' he asked her, 'why did you play the B-flat minor Prelude in such a dramatic way?'
'Because we are at war!'
It was typical of Yudina. 'We’re at war!' She absolutely had to bring the war into Bach.
- She also used to wander around with a revolver, which she would show to all and sundry. It really was a bit much. She used to say: 'Hold this thing for me, but be careful, it’s loaded.’
One day she developed a crush on someone who didn’t return her advances. One can understand why; he must have been terrified of her. And so she challenged him to a duel.
By the end of her concerts I always used to have a headache. She subjected her audiences to such a degree of intensity, an incredible intensity! And then there was her way of coming onstage; you had the impression she was walking through the rain. And she carried a crucifix and crossed herself before launching into the first note. I’ve nothing against this, but in Soviet Russia, at that time!…
Of course, she cared for the poor, took them in and lived like a tramp herself. An eccentric woman and an extraordinary artist, but someone who always felt the need to invent things… Even so, I played at her funeral. Rachmaninoff.