Sviatoslav Richter

Ukrainian pianist (born 1915 in Jytomyr – died 1997 in Moscow)

Ukrainian pianist. Sviatoslav Richter's virtuosity, insightful interpretation and command of a very broad repertoire has earned him a name as one of the 20th century's greatest pianists.

Born on 20 March 1915 in Jytomyr, Ukraine (former USSR), Sviatoslav Teofilovitch Richter began learning the piano from his father, a piano teacher in Odessa. He very soon taught himself to develop his own technique and playing with just his mother's encouragement, since his father did not like the way he played.

In 1937, Sviatoslav Richter left for the Moscow Conservatory, intent on finding out whether he could effectively become a pianist. In 1940, he was accepted as a student of the teacher he admired:Heinrich Neuhaus, a renowned teacher whose students included Emil Gilels and Radu Lupu.

At 25, he began studying the piano, at an age when others were embarking on a career as concert pianist. He refused to follow the party's official programme, which included compulsory lessons in politics. Twice he was expelled from the Conservatory; each time Heinrich Neuhaus pleaded for his readmission.

In 1940, Heinrich Neuhaus was able to arrange for Sviatoslav Richter to perform at a recital in Moscow attended by Prokofiev. Prokofiev congratulated him and offered him the chance to play his fifth concerto, with Prokofiev conducting. Sviatoslav Richter would later give the first performances of various Prokofiev scores, such as the Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 and 9 (No. 9 was dedicated to Richter).

Sviatoslav Richter then began touring extensively in the Soviet Union, gradually expanding his repertoire with pieces by Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy and Schumann, among others.

In 1945, he met the soprano Nina Dorliak and accompanied her for a recital. Though they never married, she would remain at Richter's side until his death. They gave recitals together up until 1961, when she retired from singing: mostly Russian music, but also works by Debussy and Ravel.

Richter was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1949. Despite his fame, Sviatoslav Richter was not allowed to leave Soviet soil, for political reasons. It was only in the 1960s that the pianist, after a series of concerts in Finland, left for the United States. The audiences, which until then knew him only through recordings (often recorded concerts, since Richter did not like studios), gave him a triumphant reception.

He had little affinity with the United States and gave almost no recitals there.Sviatoslav Richter subsequently travelled to England, France, Germany, Italy and, in 1970, Japan, for a marathon tour all over the country.

He was fond of France and its regions, and in 1964 he created a music festival in Meslay, in the Touraine region, where he performed each year. Guest performers included not only young musicians such as Zoltan Kocsis but also renowned artists such as Fischer-Dieskau and David Oïstrakh. 

Sviatoslav Richter was a somewhat atypical artist. He performed where he felt most at ease and often finalised the choice of programme at the last minute."I don't play for the audience, I play for myself, and if I derive any satisfaction from it, then the audience, too, is content." (Richter. Ecrits et conversations, Bruno Monsaigeaon, Actes Sud).

From the 1980s, Sviatoslav Richter started to perform with the score on the music stand and in almost complete darkness, with only the keyboard in the light. The effect was very striking for the audience and it masked his health problems. Around this time, he also started cancelling concerts.

He died on 1 August 1997 and was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Three landmark dates in the life of Sviatoslav Richter

 1940: started studying under Heinrich Neuhaus
1960: first concert outside the USSR
1964: first edition of the Fêtes musicales en Tourraine festival

Key recordings by Richter

Sviatoslav Richter: Complete Decca, Philips & DG Recordings
51 CD boxed set
DECCA 0289 478 6778 4 51

Sviatoslav Richter: The Complete Album Collection
18 CD boxed set
SONY 88843014702

Richer. Ecrits, conversation de Bruno Monsaingeon
 Edition Actes Sud – ISBN 2 7427 1981 4

- Further information

Richter. Ecrits, conversations by Bruno Monsaingeon
Edition Actes Sud – ISBN 2 7427 1981 4