Sviatoslav Richter was one of the greatest Russian pianists of the twentieth century, and his death in 1997 at the age of eighty-two marked the end of an era of virtuoso pianists. Richter was a kind of anti-career performer, a musician intent on going his own way and who disliked tying himself down to the obligations of touring and recording. His performances were spontaneous and unpredictable, in keeping with his dislike for routine.
Richter grew up in Odessa and was largely self-taught on the piano. He could memorize music at sight, and by the age of eight was playing opera scores. As a teenager he became a rehearsal pianist.
In 1937 he enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with the legendary teacher Heinrich Neuhaus. After hearing Richter play, Neuhaus pronounced the young pianist a genius and declared there was nothing he could teach him. In 1940 Richter made his Moscow debut, giving the first-ever performance of Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata. The composer was so impressed, he gave Richter the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth sonatas to premiere, and dedicated the Ninth to him.
In the 1940s and 1950s Richter won almost every major award for artists in the Soviet Union, including the Stalin Prize in 1949. He toured extensively in the 1950s, but was only permitted to travel in Iron Curtain countries. His recordings, however, became highly prized in the West.
In 1958 he was on the jury of the Tchaikovsky Competition, then considered the world's top piano competition. Richter was so enthusiastic about the young Van Cliburn's performance that he awarded him 100 points out of a possible 10, an over-the-top gesture that won him no friends.
In 1960 Richter was finally allowed to travel to the West to perform. His New York debut—which consisted of a marathon series of seven recitals in ten days at Carnegie Hall—was the sensation of the music season. A busy schedule of concerts and recordings followed, until, only a few seasons later, the pianist decided he did not like the concert lifestyle, and drastically cut back his schedule. This, of course, only increased intense public interest in his playing.
He established an annual festival in Tours, France, in 1964 and spent thirty summers there. He toured and recorded erratically. He disliked telephones and airplanes and preferred to travel by car or rail. He recorded at night, and often canceled sessions and concerts. In 1980, after suffering an embarrassing memory lapse in a concert, he began performing most of his concerts using a score.
In the 1980s and 1990s he generally performed on a whim, often scheduling appearances on short notice. His life was haphazardly managed, and whenever he needed money he'd schedule a concert. In the 1990s, his performances attracted a cult of Richter followers who tried to keep track of where he was performing and who eagerly traded recordings of his concerts. He preferred small concert venues, and the quality of his performances varied considerably. His last concert was in Lubeck, Germany, in 1995.
Richter was a unique and unpredictable artist who challenged his listeners both with his interpretations and his eclectic choice of repertoire. Though he never formally taught, his influence on a generation of younger pianists was profound, and he attracted a large and loyal following.
Richter Rediscovered (RCA, 2001); Sviatoslav Richter in the 1950s (Parnassus, 2002).
B. Monsaingeon, Richter: Notebooks and Conversations (Princeton, NJ, 2002).
"Richter, Sviatoslav." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/richter-sviatoslav
"Richter, Sviatoslav." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved November 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/richter-sviatoslav
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Sviatoslav Richter (svyä´tōsläf rĬkh´tər), 1915–97, Russian pianist, b. Ukraine. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory under Heinrich Neuhaus. After earning an impressive critical reputation, he was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1945. In 1960 he made the first of many international concert tours. One of the greatest pianists of the 20th cent., Richter was known as a perfectionist who played in a warm, romantic style. His repertoire was extensive, including works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Debussy, Mozart, and Schumann.
See B. Monsaingeon, Richter: The Enigma (documentary film, 1998) and Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations (2001).
"Richter, Sviatoslav." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/richter-sviatoslav
"Richter, Sviatoslav." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/richter-sviatoslav