Monday, November 19, 2012

November 19

Sviatoslav Richter
Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), like Vladimir Horowitz, was a closeted gay man who had a life-long female companion. Richter was a Soviet sponsored cultural ambassador who had everything to lose if his sexual nature reached the public eye. Consequently, many biographies ignore or gloss over anything about his personal relationships. While we know few details, we are left with a towering musical legacy, especially through recordings and videotaped performances. Most critics agree that Richter was one of the greatest pianists of all time.

Back in the days when I was a university piano performance major, I knew nothing about Richter’s personal proclivities, but most of my fellow students repeated the rampant (and true) gay rumors about Horowitz and Shura Cherkassky, another Russian keyboard titan. Aside from his brilliant piano recordings and performances, when we spoke about Richter, our conversations were mostly related to his role in insisting that Van Cliburn, an upstart American pianist, receive first prize in the Tschaikovsky International Piano Competition that took place in Moscow back in 1958.

Richter, who was stunningly handsome as a young man, had many personal demons. He was withdrawn and not given to interviews, and often he insisted on performing in completely darkened halls illuminated by a single light bulb above the keyboard. Subject to periods of keen depression, he went through a period during which he had to travel with a plastic lobster in order to cope with the rigors of constant performing to unrealistic public expectations. I’m not making this up.

Nevertheless, Richter left us with recordings that remain benchmarks of certain repertoire. His vast repertoire encompassed eighty-odd recital programs, everything from Bach and Handel to Gershwin. He was also a quick study. He learned Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7, which was dedicated to him, in four days, thus able to meet the deadline for its premiere.

But enough words. Let’s listen to the music.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely phenomenal pianist. I think the album of his recordings of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 and the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 is incredible. I didn't realize he was gay though I had always heard he had some real personality issues as you mentioned. Great, great, pianist tho'.