The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter was born 100 years ago yesterday. Here is a short but comprehensive memoir and appreciation with a lot of biographical information and a good critical appraisal of his playing. | March 21, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday — Friday, March 20, 2015 – brought us the first day of spring.

It also marked the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below).

Sviatoslav Richter

Richter was such a complex and towering figure that it would take a book to really do justice to him and to his career.

But the following essay by Steve Wigler for the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) does an excellent job for a short-form piece of criticism.

With one exception that gets no mention.

We now know beyond question that Richter (below) was a gay man who was forced by the Soviet government into a marriage of convenience and camouflage.

Somehow that information seems particularly pertinent to The Ear, given the growing acceptance of LGBT people and of marriage equality.


Still, Wigler’s essay is an excellent read and includes a YouTube video – there are many, many YouTube videos of Richter, who had an immense repertoire, playing. This video is of a live performance by Richter in which he plays the last movement of the first piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

You can hear the power and energy, the subtleties and excitement, to say nothing of the originality of interpretation, that Richter brought to music.


Enjoy it -– and tell us if you ever heard Richter live and what is your favorite performance by Sviatoslav Richter with a link to a YouTube video is possible.



  1. I heard Richter live in 1957 in Moscow in an all Schubert program. I never forget this performance, It was magical. ( I lived in Moscow from 1956-1958, being music director of the German and American Embassy School.)


    Comment by Irmgard Bittar — March 21, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

    • Liebe Irmgard,
      nach langer Zeit hatte ich heute die Idee, einmal im Internet nach Dir zu schauen. Wie ich aus Deinen Zeilen sehe, bist Du noch immer offen für musikalische Dinge. Sicher wirst Du wohl nicht mehr unterrichten, aber durch Deine Kinder, Enkel und ehemalige Schüler mit Musik in Verbindung bleiben. Wie geht es jetzt Dir und Deinen Kindern? Ich würde mich freuen, etwas von Dir zu hören. Später erzähle ich Dir auch von meiner Familie. Bislang geht es mir gesundheitlich noch ganz gut bis auf einige kleinere Beschwerden des Alters. Aber ich bin zufrieden. Zur Zeit singe ich immer noch im christlich-jüdischen Shalom-Chor hebräische Gesänge unter der kompetenten Leitung des Kantors Assaf Levitin (s. Internet), der gerade ordiniert worden ist. Dabei kann ich meine wenigen Hebräisch-Kenntnisse wieder etwas auffrischen.

      Sei nun mit vielen guten Wünschen
      herzlich gegrüßt von


      Comment by Helga Weinrich — December 4, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

  2. Richter and Vladimir Horowitz, perhaps the 2 greatest pianists of the past century, were both gay. Both Artur Rubenstein and David Dubal have commented on Horowitz being a homosexual, despite being “married”. His male lover also came forward a few years ago and spoke of their relationship. Both pianists had considerable pressures upon them on their lives because of society’s attitudes. Horowitz lived as a virtual recluse for decades. I suspect that their sexual orientation and perhaps alienation from society, in an odd way, may have actually helped their insights/performances.


    Comment by fflambeau — March 21, 2015 @ 2:30 am

  3. I have a 12″ LP of Richter. One thing about him that is INcredible is that unlike many pianists who are happy being able to reach an octave between thumb & middle finger, Richter’s hands were so large that he could and often did reach a 12th.


    Comment by buppanasu — March 21, 2015 @ 12:17 am

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