Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations

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Sviatoslav Richter was a dazzling performer but an intensely private man. Though world famous and revered by classical music lovers everywhere, he guarded himself and his thoughts as carefully as his talent. Fascinated, author and filmmaker Bruno Onsaingeon tried vainly for years to interview the enigmatic pianist. Richter eventually yielded, granting Monsaingeon hours of taped conversatin, unlimited access to his diaries and notebooks, and, ultimately, his friendship. This book...

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Overview

Sviatoslav Richter was a dazzling performer but an intensely private man. Though world famous and revered by classical music lovers everywhere, he guarded himself and his thoughts as carefully as his talent. Fascinated, author and filmmaker Bruno Onsaingeon tried vainly for years to interview the enigmatic pianist. Richter eventually yielded, granting Monsaingeon hours of taped conversatin, unlimited access to his diaries and notebooks, and, ultimately, his friendship. This book is the product of that friendship.

Richter reveals himself as a man and an artist. Unsentimentally and with his characteristic dry humor and intelligence, the musician describes his poignant childhood and spectacular career, including his tumultuous early days at the Moscow Conservatory and his triumphant 1960 tour of the United States. His laconic recounting of playing in the orchestra at Stalin's surreal, interminable state funeral is riveting. Most important for music lovers, Richter discusses his influences and views on musical interpretation. He describes his encounters with other great Russian performers and composers, including Prokoviev, Shostakovich, Oistrakh, and Gilels. Candid sections from his personal journals offer his sober and unguarded impressions of dozens of performances and recordings—both his own and those of other musicians.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
First published in French in 1998, this is a collection of anecdotes and reflections by the Russian-born Richter (1915-97), one of the finest pianists of the 20th century. "The Conversations" section is presented in the first person, although Monsaingeon, a writer and filmmaker based in Paris, actually cobbled it together from hours of taped interviews; this section also contains a previously published essay by Richter on Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. "The Notebooks" section consists of hundreds of edited passages extracted from Richter's diaries, with the pianist's candid, insightful, and occasionally catty reactions to music and musicians related to performances he played or attended and recordings he heard between 1970 and 1995. Monsaingeon's editing casts Richter in a favorable light, and skeptical readers may wonder if they are getting a complete picture of the subject. Regardless, this is a fascinating glimpse of the musical world through the eyes of one of its major practitioners. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
New York Observer
This is as close, in a human and enlightening way, as the likes of thee and me are likely to get to truly towering creative (and interpretive) genius.
— Michael Wolff
Booklist
Music lovers should be grateful, for along with [Richter's] comments on music and musicians, it displays the foibles, opinions, skills, joys, and sorrows of the publicly reticent keyboard titan. Lavishly illustrated with photographs, it should enlighten and delight lovers of the piano and the pianist.
Financial Times
This book is almost impossible to put down. . . . The strength of Richter's personality, his obstinacy, and his candour, leap from every page.
— Andrew Clark
New York Times Book Review
Here is one of the great pianists of the 20th century, who was justly welcomed with adulation any time he appeared, who never once, in dozens of recordings, seemed to doubt what he was doing or what the music was saying.
— Edward Rothstein
Times Literary Supplement
[In this well-made book] . . . Richter appears part monk, part showman, part unworldly, part shrewd. . . . Richter's notebooks, reproduced in the second half of the book, slag off, with gusto, other musicians, recordings, conductors, and, to be fair, himself.
— Richard Coles
Notes
The book will . . . be of interest to anyone interested in Richter's ideas and personality.
— Paul Orgel
Choice
The reader is presented with an intimate portrait. . . . Monsaingeon has put together a volume that gives the reader a close-up look at an internationally known musician recognized as one of the most important pianists in the last half of the 20th century.
The Evening Standard
Richter himself spends 200 of these pages putting us straight as regards his recordings . . . The table of his repetoire in these Notebooks and Conversations shows he was always a subtle, inquisitive artist, who played for his own developing pleasure, not to feed the public with exactly what it gaped for . . .
— Eric Griffiths
The Economist
In allowing Richter's own words to take precedence over anecdotes or analysis, a clear view of Richter's musical life emerges . . . Richter develops from a mischievous-looking young man to the chiseled, inscrutable icon of his later years.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Few in the 20th century loomed so tall artistically but lived more eccentrically than the late Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter. . . . Was there ever a more singular musician?. . . In what initially appears to be a mere appendix of the book, there is the most insightful, engaging part of all: excerpts from Richter's personal notebooks. . . . This is the heart of music-making and an artistic life. To understand [Richter] is to better understand all of those individualists of the keyboard.
— David Patrick Stearns
The New Yorker
Enlivened throughout by Richter's intelligence and his eccentric humor, particularly in the last section, a diary where he has made notes on the music he is listening to. . . . Characteristically, his sternest criticisms are reserved for his own recordings.
The New York Review of Books
Quintessential Richter . . . highly cultivated, perceptive but caustic, particularly about what he perceived as superficiality and egotism. . . . Determination, sincerity, strength in abundance. Everything about Richter seemed outsized.
— Michael Kimmelman
The Evening Standard - Eric Griffiths
Richter himself spends 200 of these pages putting us straight as regards his recordings . . . The table of his repetoire in these Notebooks and Conversations shows he was always a subtle, inquisitive artist, who played for his own developing pleasure, not to feed the public with exactly what it gaped for . . .
New York Observer - Michael Wolff
This is as close, in a human and enlightening way, as the likes of thee and me are likely to get to truly towering creative (and interpretive) genius.
Financial Times - Andrew Clark
This book is almost impossible to put down. . . . The strength of Richter's personality, his obstinacy, and his candour, leap from every page.
New York Times Book Review - Edward Rothstein
Here is one of the great pianists of the 20th century, who was justly welcomed with adulation any time he appeared, who never once, in dozens of recordings, seemed to doubt what he was doing or what the music was saying.
The Philadelphia Inquirer - David Patrick Stearns
Few in the 20th century loomed so tall artistically but lived more eccentrically than the late Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter. . . . Was there ever a more singular musician?. . . In what initially appears to be a mere appendix of the book, there is the most insightful, engaging part of all: excerpts from Richter's personal notebooks. . . . This is the heart of music-making and an artistic life. To understand [Richter] is to better understand all of those individualists of the keyboard.
Times Literary Supplement - Richard Coles
[In this well-made book] . . . Richter appears part monk, part showman, part unworldly, part shrewd. . . . Richter's notebooks, reproduced in the second half of the book, slag off, with gusto, other musicians, recordings, conductors, and, to be fair, himself.
The New York Review of Books - Michael Kimmelman
Quintessential Richter . . . highly cultivated, perceptive but caustic, particularly about what he perceived as superficiality and egotism. . . . Determination, sincerity, strength in abundance. Everything about Richter seemed outsized.
Notes - Paul Orgel
The book will . . . be of interest to anyone interested in Richter's ideas and personality.
From the Publisher

"The reader is presented with an intimate portrait. . . . Monsaingeon has put together a volume that gives the reader a close-up look at an internationally known musician recognized as one of the most important pianists in the last half of the 20th century."--Choice
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691074382
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/12/2001
  • Pages: 467
  • Product dimensions: 6.39 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction ix
Ritcher in his own words
Prolegomenon 3
1. Childhood 7
2. Odessa in the Thirties 16
3. Heinrich Neuhaus 25
4. The War Years 41
5. On Prokofiev 67
6. A Dark Chapter 90
7. Foreign Tours 95
8. Silhouettes 115
9. The Mirror 138
Notebooks: On Music 167
Appendices
A Don Juan of Music, or Richter in Figures 379
Highlights of Richter's Career 407
Index 414
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