April 13, 2010
44 B&W illus.
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v2.1 Reference

Sviatoslav Richter


Sviatoslav Richter (1915–1997) is widely recognized as one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. In this translation of the first full-scale biography of Richter, Danish composer Karl Aage Rasmussen combines his artistic appreciation of Richter’s career with a sympathetic telling of the pianist’s life based on family archives and interviews with people who worked and lived with him. Richter enjoyed early success in the Soviet Union, winning the Stalin Prize in 1949. He traveled and performed throughout Russia and Eastern Europe, and earned notice in the West via his recordings. In 1960 he toured in the West to great acclaim, including a run of successful performances at Carnegie Hall. He would remain an active performer throughout his life. Richter was an intensely private and withdrawn individual who disliked the glare and trappings of celebrity, even preferring to play small halls where the audience could concentrate on the details of his performance. The book also details his chronic depression and homosexuality, and the impact that this may have had in curbing his political activities. Rasmussen celebrates one of the giants of twentieth-century music while painting a realistic portrait of the often troubled double life that many Soviet citizens, especially public artists, were forced to lead.

About the Author

KARL AAGE RASMUSSEN is a Danish composer and writer. He recently retired as professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus.


“Rasmussen’s book is satisfyingly rich in illuminating details. And being a composer, he brings welcome musical expertise.”—Bloomington Herald Times

“The book demystifies one of the most mysterious figures of modern music-makers, right down to his practice methods.”—The Well-Tempered Ear

“In this first-ever biography of Richter, Rasmussen paints a portrait not only of the famous Soviet pianist, but also of Russian, European, and American cultural life over the course of the 20th century . . . . The book is written in a readable, conversational tone that makes it accessible to a wide range of readers. . . . Recommended.”—Choice

“This first biography of the legendary Russian musician (1915-1997) reveals the man behind the enigma. Many of Richter’s colleagues are quoted and many of his less ingratiating quirks laid bare. Rasmussen dispels the myths without debunking Richter’s greatness.”—Financial Times

“Rasmussen has an obvious affinity for the pantheon of famous pianists, and although he undertook the project out of his ‘fascination with a great pianist, his personality and music’ (p. 273), his writing never lapses into hagiography, and the absence of technical terminology or music examples makes the book approachable to readers of all backgrounds. Considering that Rasmussen already has character studies of such musicians as Schumann under his belt, he is a natural fit to produce this illuminating volume on Richter.”

Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association

“For those of us who were privileged to follow Richter’s career, to hear him when he visited the United States, to experience his artistic development through a series of recordings released over the years, he remained the performing musician, little more. We may have wondered from time to time how he managed to travel, seemingly at ease, from east to west and back, time and again, when not all artists from the Soviet Union were able to do so. We may have wondered, but we simply accepted his presence with gratitude because he could do such wondrous things at the piano. Rasmussen has filled in the blanks. Who emerges is a man that understood how to navigate the roiling currents of political intrigues and realities; that chose not to reveal much of his private self, his thoughts, beliefs, and motivations, his homosexuality and other aspects of the off-stage life; even his views about music. Richter let performance speak for him, even though — as Rasmussen discovered — the pianist lived fully, as fully as possible, considering the hectic professional schedule he maintained and the limiting exigencies of the Soviet environment. Rasmussen’s book is satisfyingly rich in illuminating details. And being a composer, he brings welcome musical expertise.”—Bloomington Herald Times


"Destiny provided Sviatoslav Richter with a rare combination of physical and spiritual gifts to make him perhaps the most outstanding pianist of all time. His ability to identify with diametrically opposed musical idioms from Bach's to Rachmaninoff's and from Debussy's to Hindemith's and his never fading and unstoppable readiness to question and examine himself in relation to the music he played made him a performer whose range of repertoire was legendary and whose interpretations were mesmerizing and unforgettable. The volume of research Mr. Rasmussen compiled combined with his great attention to detail makes this biography the most compelling study of the life of one of the greatest artists of our time."—Vladimir Ashkenazy
Northeastern University Press

9781555537104 : sviatoslav-richter-rasmussen
312 Pages
$40.00 USD

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