Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Who was he?
A Russian pianist of German descent who became the USSR’s pre-eminent musician.
What makes him great?
Rock- solid technique combined with an astonishing variety of sound. Barry Douglas on the intensity of Richter “I heard Richter play many times in England, France and America and what I loved about him was that he was able to make the piano sound not like a piano – it sounded like an orchestra or sometimes like a choir. Also, anything he did at the instrument always seemed totally right. It didn’t seem like his ideas; it seemed like the only way to do it. Every artist should aim, if they’re serious, to remove themselves from the equation and go to the heart or the essence of the music. Very few artists can do that, but for Richter it was totally natural. "He was also a very serious musician: after concerts he’d often decide he needed to practise, and would go home and practise for another two hours. He also insisted that each recital program contain at least one new piece. So his repertoire was vast. I don’t think his studio recordings were that successful: they didn’t really represent him. It’s the live recordings which are amazing. Everyone talks about the Sofia recital from 1958 where he plays Liszt’s Feux Follets and Mussorgsky’sPictures at an Exhibition. Still, his recordings of the Beethoven sonatas are also second-to-none, not to mention the Russian repertoire – the little pieces of Tchaikovsky – and Prokofiev, who wrote his Seventh Sonata for him. "When I was at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1984 he sent messages to me through others saying how fantastic he thought I was, which was very sweet. I wish I’d had a chance to get to know him better. "I will always look up to Richter. A performing artist mustn’t copy, but you can be inspired by the essence of what someone stood for, and that’s what I do with him. I know very deep inside myself I’m trying to grasp what Richter had, which is an amazing, fiery, burning intensity of passion for music – that’s what came across when he played. He was absolutely obsessed, and possessed, by music.”