This probably isn't the right place to post this as it isn't reading, and maybe this forum isn't the right place for it at all, but I thought it might interest some of the people here, as it's about a character who represents for me, and perhaps for a lot of Europeans, a rare peak of talent combined with philosophical insight and personal integrity. Fortunately for us, someone made a documentary film based around interviews with him, based on his diaries and recollections, and it really is a fascinating document, both about the workings of genius and about European history as seen through the prism of one man's life and work.
He was an exceptional genius, almost entirely self-taught, and not at all in the usual mould of a concert pianist. The younger Russian pianists looked up to him and called him “the bald guy”. When I lived in London in the late 80s we had a Russian pianist staying with us for a while, he performed in a morning suit that Richter had given him and he called it “my bald guy penguin suit”.
The interviewer asks him in this film why he doesn't play in large halls more often, doesn't he like large halls? Richter says he does, but the large halls are all booked up three years in advance. “How do I know what I will feel like in three years time?” He often used to give up the piano for months at a time and go wandering. He was press-ganged into playing at Stalin's funeral, but later he turned up in defiance of the Soviet authorities to play at Pasternak's funeral. He knew Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Oistrakh and Rostropovich; he played two pianos with Benjamin Britten.
I heard Richter play three times in my life, the first time when I was about 20 and my teacher took me to hear him. What I remember most about that was the sensitivity and intimacy of the sound this huge figure produced. He started his concert with a very simple piece which would probably be set for a grade 6 exam, but every note had power coiled inside it like a golden spring, it was a most uncanny sensation. The last time I heard him I suppose I was about 45 and it must have been not long before he died. He played in the Royal Festival Hall which is vast, but he had all the lights turned off except for a little table lamp with a frilly shade which he placed on the piano and he played from the score. It was part of his mission in his later years to make concert going a more intimate experience, to get away from the idea of the performer as superman on a floodlit stage.
The concert that made most impression on me, though, was one perhaps a couple of years before that. Richter was already in his 70s and he played a concert which included the first set of Chopin Etudes. He played the first one, then he started the second one and played a couple of bars and then suddenly stopped, looked straight ahead for a couple of seconds, then started again and played the rest of the set in a demonic fury. I assumed he had had a memory slip, but later another pianist told me that he was being followed by a documentary crew and he had obtained their agreement that they wouldn't film him during the concert. Just as he started that piece he heard a camera focus behind the curtain, so he stopped! That must have been in 1994 or so. A couple of years ago I ran into someone who had been at the same concert. He said he ran into Richter as he was walking out afterwards and Richter was in a towering rage. That incident came to symbolize for me, in some kind of way, the difference between an older world in which people did at least keep their promises, and the new one in which people just say anything to get the result they require.
Anyway, Richter still inspires me and this documentary might interest some of you, I can't test these links at the moment as I am in China but if they don't work go to youtube and search for “Richter the enigma”