Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter (March 20, 1915 - August 1, 1997) was a pianist of Ukrainian origin.

He is numbered among the finest pianists of the 20th century. He exhibited all the best traits of the Russian school of playing: dynamism, lyrical expressiveness, and a wide range of tonal color. Combined with his typical thoughtfulness, subtlety, and attention to style, these qualities assured Richter of a distinguished international career. For many listeners, indeed, he was the paragon of balance among virtuosos, the pianist who exhibited the greatest equality among the elements across his musical palette.

Although born in Zhitomir in Ukraine, he grew up in Odessa. Unusually, Richter was largely self-taught. Although his organistist father provided him with a basic education in music, Sviatoslav learned simply by playing the masterworks of the repertoire, including the piano scores of Wagner's music dramas. He gave his first recital in 1934 but did not formally study piano until three years later, when he enrolled in the Moscow Conservatory, which waived the entrance exam for the young prodigy. He studied with Heinrich Neuhaus who also taught Vladimir Horowitz. In 1940, while still a student, he gave the world premiere of the Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a composer with whose works he was ever after associated. He also became quite known for the fact that he skipped compulsory lessons at the conservatory and was expelled twice in his first year.

The West first became aware of Richter through recordings made in the 1950s. He was not allowed to tour the United States until 1960, but when he did, he created a sensation. Touring, however, was not Richter's forte. He preferred an intimate concert venue, and in later years took to playing in small, darkened halls, sometimes with only a small lamp lighting his piano. He died in Moscow while studying for a concert series he was to give.

His repertoire spanned virtually all the major works of the piano repertoire. Among his noted recordings are works by Schubert, Beethoven, Bach (whose Wohltemperierte Klavier he is said to have learned by heart in one month), Chopin, Liszt, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and countless others. He gave the premiere of Prokofiev's 7th sonata (which he learned in just four days before staging a performance of the work) and Prokofiev dedicated his 9th sonata to him. Apart from playing solo he also enjoyed playing chamber music with partners such as David Oistrakh, Benjamin Britten, Pierre Fournier and Mstislav Rostropovich.