Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter (Born March 20, 1915 in Zhitomir, Ukraine – Died August 1, 1997 in Moscow, Russia) was a Russian pianist of German descent who is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. He played a wide repertoire and is noted especially for his performances of Bach, Schumann, Schubert, Liszt, Prokofiev, and Mussorgsky.


Richter was born in Zhitomir and raised in Odessa, both cities in the Ukraine. His father, Teofil Danovich Richter, was a German organist and pianist. Richter learned the basics of music from his father, but he was largely self-taught. He had exceptional sight-reading abilities and showcased this at local operas and ballets. He joined the Odessa Opera at the Odessa Conservatory at age 15. He also had an early interest in the other arts, such as painting, literature, and theatre, and he occupied himself with composition as well. By 1935, he had become fully devoted to the piano.

Richter’s first public recital was at the engineer club in Odessa in 1934. Three years later, he sought out the famed teacher and pianist Heinrich Neuhaus, who taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Neuhaus was very impressed by Richter’s playing. He is reported to have called Richter “the genius pupil I’ve been waiting for all my life”, and also commented that he “had nothing to teach him”.

In 1940, Richter debuted in Moscow with a performance of Prokofiev’s 6th sonata. A year later, his German father was arrested and executed by the Soviet authorities under accusations of being a spy.

In 1945, Richter met the soprano singer Nina Dorliac. They performed together and she became his lifelong companion. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear, and they never married.

In 1949, Richter won the Stalin Prize.. In 1952, Richter played the role of Franz Liszt in the film The Composer Glinka, based on the life of he famous early Russian composer Mikhail Glinka. He also conducted for the first and last time for the world premiere of Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.

Over the 1940s and 1950s, Richter toured Eastern Europe (Bucharest, Prague, Budapest, Sofia, Warsaw), the USSR, and China. Then in 1960, Richter began touring Western countries. First he toured Finland, then the US. He had previously been introduced to the West through recordings and praise from Emil Gilels, among others. In 1961, he toured England and France as well. He was well-received in the West as in the East.

In 1963, Richter established the Grange de Meslay music festival in France.

In 1970, a performance by Richter accompanied by David Oistrakh was disrupted by anti-Soviet protesters. Richter vowed never to return to the US. The same year, he toured Japan for the first time. He would return seven times.

In 1981, Richter started the December Nights international music festival, which was and continues to be held in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

Richter died from a heart attack in Moscow in 1997, at age 82. He never married and left behind no children.

Musical Style and Legacy

Richter’s approach to pianism involved respecting the composer’s intentions as much as possible. He played a great variety of pieces from different composers, periods, and styles. He is particularly known for his interpretations of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Schumann, Schubert, Liszt, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, and Scriabin.

Richter has been highly praised by other renowned musicians such as Glenn Gould, Arthur Rubinstein, Heinrich Neuhaus, Dmitri Shostakovich, Lazar Berman, Vladimir Sofronitsky, Vladimir Horowitz, and others.


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.”

“Put a small piano in a truck and drive out on country roads; take time to discover new scenery; stop in a pretty place where there is a good church; unload the piano and tell the residents; give a concert; offer flowers to the people who have been so kind as to attend; leave again.”



Article written by me for Lunyr