Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter (March 20 [O.S. March 7] 1915 – August 1, 1997) was a Soviet pianist well known for the depth of his interpretations, virtuoso technique, and vast repertoire. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.
Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations
- The interpreter is really an executant, carrying out the composer's intentions to the letter. He doesn't add anything that isn't already in the work. If he is talented, he allows us to glimpse the truth of the work that is in itself a thing of genius and that is reflected in him. He shouldn't dominate the music, but should dissolve into it.
- I am not a complete idiot, but whether from weakness or laziness have no talent for thinking. I know only how to reflect: I am a mirror ... Logic does not exist for me. I float on the waves of art and life and never really know how to distinguish what belongs to the one or the other or what is common to both. Life unfolds for me like a theatre presenting a sequence of somewhat unreal sentiments; while the things of art are real to me and go straight to my heart.
Quotes about Richter
- Richter was like a god to me. I met him in Warsaw in 1991. Because I wanted to watch him rehearsing, I literally lay on the floor behind the stage. When he arrived, he didn't even try the piano. The next day I got a phone call. They needed someone to turn pages for him. In fact a young girl had been chosen to do it, but when Richter knew that he said he couldn't play with a woman beside him because he would find her breasts too inhibiting! Later I discovered he never tried the piano before a concert. He used to say that a concert was a matter of fate. That made a big impression on me and I tend to take a similar approach.
- Piotr Anderszewski, Anderszewski on Richter
- My teacher was influenced by the Russian piano school. For him, Richter and Gilels were the great heroes and they became for me also. Especially Richter. When I was about 20, I couldn’t listen to any other pianist because I was completely obsessed by Richter. He was such a great personality, had the most phenomenal talent, and played so much of the repertoire. When everything worked, it was incredible.
- Leif Ove Andsnes, in At the piano : interviews with 21st-century pianists (2012) by Caroline Benser
- Richter magnetized me, like he did so many others, and I wouldn't have missed his concerts for anything. I think he communicated more than anyone else complete devotion and sincerity to his art. When I look back, this is what attracted me most to him then, and continues to do so today. I now understand that the strongest element in his magnetic appeal to audiences is his conviction that what he does is absolutely right at that particular moment. It comes from the fact that he has created his own inner world, absolutely complete in his mind, and if you argue with him about anything it's almost no use. He might say "Yes, perhaps you're right, but I just don't feel it that way. This is what I feel and this is the way I play." And that's it. I don't often agree him after the performance, but during it I can see that everything fits together and is completely sincere and devoted, and that wins me over. I'm sure that many people feel exactly the same but, in my case, since I am a practising musician, the fact that I am won over at the time of the performance is extraordinary. In almost all other cases I disagree right there and then at the moment when a performance is taking place! In addition to his many other wonderful qualities Richter is for me the greatest interpreter of Debussy; his playing really has three or four dimensions. It's not just beautiful sounds and beautiful sonorities; I find the imagination behind the sonorities unmatchable. There is a fantastic feeling of spontaneity and of "creating at this moment". In fact, everything is worked out before, but at the same time he always creates "at this moment", and this feeling is marvellous.
- Vladimir Ashkenazy, In: Beyond frontiers (1985) by Jasper Parrott and Vladimir Ashkenazy
- Of all the pianists with whom Prokofiev worked during the Soviet period of his life, he clearly preferred Richter. One of the testaments to this, de scribed here for the first time, is a note in Prokofiev’s handwriting preserved in Richter’s archive. It seems to be a draft of a congratulatory cable—the text lacks punctuation marks—that says, “Warm salute to pianist best in Soviet Union and round whole globe the Prokofievs.”
- Boris Berman, Prokofiev’s piano sonatas : a guide for the listener and the performer (2008), "Prokofiev the pianist"
- Sviatoslav Richter amazed me by his spontaneity. I emphasize - the spontaneity of Richter's art of the 40's-50's is a unique phenomenon in pianism. For instance, today nothing is heard of spontaneity. And Emil Gilels has always been a mentor for me. I have always felt and still feel taken over by the wonder of Gilels' unique tone. Undoubtedly Richter and Gilels inspired me as magnificent virtuosos by their technique. The more so, as at that time I already had my own considerable technical achievements. In this respect everything was even too good, I would say.
- Lazar Berman, in Mark Zilberquit, Russia's great modern pianists (1983)
- Why this wave of emotion and excitement? Some attributed it to a great publicity build-up, and one writer objected to the use of the phrase, 'The Pianist of the Century'. 'Which century?' he asked. This was the same critic who labelled Horowitz on his debut as 'the greatest pianist, living or dead'. It is obvious that Richter's gramophone records were his best publicity agent, for these fine recordings have been available for some time and they have so impressed the discerning listener that the message has been passed round-'Here is a great pianist'. Publicity has not suppressed judgment here.
- Harold Craxton, "Sviatoslav Richter", The Musical Times, Vol. 102, No. 1423 (Sep., 1961)
- Criticism is a very personal affair-no two people can hear alike, neither can their reactions be standardized. I have read much in the press about Richter's performances, and the opinion of distinguished critics has been varied, and quite rightly so. But there seems to have been a crescendo from doubt to approval and admiration, from the early use of words such as 'provincial', 'reprieve for Richter', to 'the supreme artist, whom we had been led to expect'.
To me there seems no doubt that Richter is a great pianist. I have heard enough to thrill me. A pianist who can use the piano in every legitimate and musical way-who has song in his heart and rare agility in his fingers and hands, who never attempts to improve music by discovering new effects or counter-melodies-an artist who has a belief in his choice of music, and whose great art is placed in affectionate service to the composer as a first and last aim.
- Harold Craxton, "Sviatoslav Richter", The Musical Times, Vol. 102, No. 1423 (Sep., 1961)
- Great pianists usually have one or two facets that dominate their performances in ways that beget adjectives: Horowitzian thunder, Gouldian staccato, Serkin-like nervous energy, Hofmannesque inner-voices, Cortotish rubato. Yet what makes Sviatoslav Richter's playing "Richterian" is not so easy to pin down. The recordings display a multitude of Richters at work. He can be delicate or brusque, withdrawn or optimistic, scrupulous or cavalier, an architect or a miniaturist, a poet or a pedant. One consistent attribute is the pianist's distinctive tone. The beauty and clarity of his sound shimmers with prismatic transparency at all dynamic levels. Chords are always translucent and well balanced. Few pianists can summon the concentration and control that enable Richter, with his hypnotic legato, not only to sustain the unusually slow pace of the Sarabande of Bach's Third English Suite, or the First Movement of the Schubert G Major Sonata, D.894, but also to draw the listener into his sound world.
- Jed Distler, CD Review (1995)
- Since his death, Sviatoslav Richter has emerged as the Grateful Dead of classical pianists. Wherever he played tape recorders followed, and, well, you know the rest. Numerous posthumous releases continue to compound and complicate the pianist’s overstuffed discography. That doesn’t stop Richter mavens from debating the relative merits of his countless recorded versions of this or that work, much as Deadheads pore over concert setlists and vote for their favorite “Dark Star” or “Playing in the Band”.
- Jed Distler, "Richter–the Grateful Dead of Classical Pianists" (May 13, 2002)
- Great pianists often have one trait that dominates others: Sergey Rachmaninov’s left-hand thrusts, Alfred Cortot’s rubato, Vladimir Horowitz’s thundering sonority, Glenn Gould’s détaché articulation, and so forth. By contrast, Sviatoslav Richter was something of a stylistic Zelig, a chameleon who couldn’t be pigeonholed. He called himself ‘a normal human being who happens to play the piano’, yet his artistry often provoked contradictory reactions.
- Jed Distler, "Sviatoslav Richter centenary tribute" (March 20, 2015)
- I believe you can divide musical performance into two categories: those who seek to exploit the instrument they use and those who do not.
In the first category, if we believe history, is a place for such legendary characters as Liszt and Paganini as well as many allegedly demanding virtuosi of more recent vintages. That category belongs essentially to musicians determined to make us aware of their relationship with their instrument. They allow that relationship to become the focus of attention.
The second category includes musicians who try to bypass the whole question of the performing mechanism, to create the illusion of a direct link between themselves and a particular musical score. And, therefore, help the listener to achieve a sense of involvement, not with the performance per se but rather with the music itself. And in our time, there's no better example of that second musician than Sviatoslav Richter.
What Richter does is insert between the listener and the composer his own enormously powerful personality as a kind of conduit. And we gain the impression that we're discovering the work anew and, often, from a quite different perspective than we're accustomed to.
- Such is our reverence for Mr. Richter's distinguished career that we tend to overlook its ambivalence. He has indeed risen above his Soviet milieu, but he is also anchored to it. A part of him realizes that the instrument is just that: a device used to make something else, namely music. The other part of him surrenders to the primary tenet of the Soviet school: that the instrument dictates the style of performance, and that when music and that style clash, music must adjust.
Mr. Richter is an honest man. He reads scores with sober, selfless care. Listen to him play Scriabin etudes, and you will hear a compelling need to tell complex musical stories with absolute clarity. Mr. Richter's uprightness extends to phrasing. No one has better calculated the needed breathing space between musical sentences. He teaches by example. On the opening page of Schumann's "Des Abends," Mr. Richter's withholding of the accented tone ideally describes the clash of moving melody note against a settled harmony beneath. It is a textbook lesson in rubato, sternly delivered.
He has the moral courage to sustain the slowest of tempos in the first movement of the Chopin F minor Concerto. The slow movement peels away accumulated sentiment and admires Chopin's marvelous long breaths of movement. When it is time to laugh and be merry -- say, in Schumann's skipping, skittering "Traumes Wirren" -- merriment is not left to chance. If Mr. Richter has ever played a casual passage on the piano, I am unaware of it. Authority rises around his performances like great stone monuments. Mr. Richter does not interpret a piece of music; he looms over it.
- Bernard Holland, "CLASSICAL VIEW;Horsepower In Place Of History", The New York Times (Feb. 18, 1996)
- Of the Russian pianists I like only one, Richter. Gilels did some things well, but I did not like his mannerisms, the way he moved around while he was playing.
- Amid all the tributes that will mark tomorrow’s centenary of the birth of Sviatoslav Richter, none will find the right adjective to go before the noun ‘pianist’. Richter was unlike any pianist before or since, so much so that the very term pianist distorts and belittles the essence of his being.
- Norman Lebrecht, Not another centenary, this is the greatest musician at the piano, March 19, 2015
- How many pianists can claim today to be at [Richter's] level? How many are his peers, in the whole history of piano playing? Although I may appear unduly selective, only two names come to mind: Franz Liszt and Feruccio Busoni. The first was born in 1811; the second in 1866, fifty-one years later. And Richter was born in 1915, forty-nine years after Busoni.
- Piero Rattalino, Pianisti e Fortisti, Il terzo Uomo
- Unlike Beethoven’s sonatas, but like his own song cycles, Schubert’s piano sonatas were not of a nature to inspire the need for public performance for a long time. Sviatoslav Richter’s comprehension of this special intimate nature can explain his interpretation of some of the late sonatas. his very slow tempo in the first movement of the last sonata in B-flat Major (marked only Molto moderato) excited the derision of Alfred Brendel. As I remember, Richter takes almost half an hour for this movement alone, with three more still to go. Brendel was right in thinking the tempo incorrect or inauthentic, but he also appeared not to feel that the intimacy of the work was also essential to its authenticity, and contented himself with a large- scale rendition. The movement is indeed of grand dimensions, but the paradox of schubert’s style here is the astonishing quantity of dynamic indications of pianissimo and even ppp, broken most memorably just before the repeat of the exposition by a single fierce and unexpectedly brutal playing as loudly as possible of the trill of the principal motif, heard so far only very softly (a repeat that Brendel refused to perform, perhaps because the unprepared violence is awkward in a large hall, although paradoxically more convincing in an intimate setting). Richter was an extraordinarily intelligent musician: whenever there was a significant detail in the score, it was always signaled by a reaction in his interpretation, not always, perhaps, the reaction that one would have liked, but no matter.
- Charles Rosen, Ch. 28. "Old Wisdom and Newfangled Theory: Two One-Way Streets to Disaster" in Freedom and the arts : essays on music and literature (2012)
- It was fabulous! I came especially from Europe. Richter had already played three concerts. I was curious to hear the "great Richter" and went to his concert. He played three pieces by Ravel, simply incredibly! A sound of prodigious beauty! I had never heard before a piano sound like that. It was an other instrument. It brought tears to my eyes. Richter is a gigantic musician with great intelligence. He plays the piano, and the piano responds. He sings with the piano.
- Arthur Rubinstein, In Bruno Monsaingeon, The Enigma (film biography of Richter).
- If Gilels was in the mainstream tradition of piano playing, Sviatoslav Richter belongs with the great individualists. Alkan? Busoni? Michelangeli? All represented a kind of maverick approach to music and the keyboard, marching to a different drummer. … At the conservatory, his magnetism, his dedication, the aura that always has surrounded him made themselves felt. … Everything he did was different from what other pianists did. His enormous hands could span a twelfth — C to G. A compulsive practicer, he was sometimes known to work twelve hours a day. He would even practice after a recital. Or he might not touch the piano for months. In all things he was different. Neuhaus was struck by the way Richter adapted his mind to that of the composer. "When Richter plays different compositions it seems that different pianists are playing." He developed an enormous repertoire, from Bach and Handel (he is one of the few who plays the Handel Suites) to Prokofieff, Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten.
- Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists (2nd ed., 1987)
- To name just a few other soloists the memorable concerts of which I attended at that time: Arthur Rubinstein, Ida Haendel, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Claudio Arrau, Monique de la Bruchollerie, Annie Fischer, Igor Oistrach. Richter particularly impressed me and I remember a story about one of his concerts in Bucharest. He was scheduled for an evening concert with the Philharmonic. The rehearsal with the orchestra had to take place in the afternoon before the concert, but Richter did not show up. The conductor (I think it was George Georgescu, the music director of the Philharmonic) sent somebody to look for him at his hotel, the Atheneum Palace, next to the concert hall, but he was not there, nor did his wife know where he was. But then she suddenly realized that in his concert he was scheduled to play one of the piano concerts of Liszt. She immediately guessed that he had gone to the cemetery: After playing a Liszt concert for piano and orchestra Richter used to give as a bis Liszt’s Totentanz and to be in the right mood for this piece he used to go before that to the cemetery. And, indeed, there he was.
- Richard M. Weiner, Analogies in Physics and Life Ch. 6. Persona Non Grata