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The "Enigma"
of Sviatoslav Richter:
The Longing for Harmony
"If one can only find the necessary harmony, life can be so wonderful."
- Sviatoslav Richter
(Richter's Search for Purity)"
(on Streaming RealVideo7)
A film in memory of Sviatoslav Richter
featuring his legendary performance of
Prelude in E flat minor from "The Well-Tempered Clavier"
(with original sound treatments)
by Gregory & Maria Pearse
(approx. 3 1/2 min.)
optional download (2.5 MB)
Richter, l'insoumis ("Richter the Enigma")
directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, France, 1998.

The film about the incomparable Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter is an experience for all, who have been deeply affected by this man's art. Richter was often called "the best pianist in the world" - and not just by the press, but by many leading pianists themselves. This film contains treasures of archival footage of Richter in recitals, his own recollections of his long and fascinating life and the on-camera interviews given just before his death. The film is very well-made, balancing as it does Richter's voice-over narration with historical footage of many events in the Soviet Union - among them, Stalin's funeral. It is incredible to follow the life of one human being, who rises to world prominence out of the circumstances, which made his very survival questionable and to sense in all of it the Guidance of a Higher Power. The Guidance, which is available to every human being, but which is simply more noticeable in Richter's case.
Born to a Russian mother and a German father, Richter acquired the fluency of the German language in his childhood and mixed German expressions with his Russian to the very end of his life. Growing up in a province, far away from any centers of musical life in the Soviet Union, Richter nevertheless, at a specific time, felt a great urge to go to Moscow and to audition for the legendary teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, Heinrich Neuhaus, who as it happened was also of a German descent. Not only did Richter's playing had a life-changing effect upon Neuhaus, but the latter became "a second father" to Richter. The years of Stalinist purges, leading up to WWII, were difficult and uncertain times for all, but especially for all those of non-Russian descent. Many people of German descent perished, including Richter's father, who was killed in the city of Odessa. For the rest of his life Richter refused to give a recital in that city. He toured the vast expanses of the Soviet Union, playing in villages as well as in big cities.At one point, he found himself in Leningrad during the blockade and had difficulties with his passport, since the Russians considered him to be German, while the Germans considered him Russian. For the longest time (longer than any other pianist) he was not permitted to perform in the West. When he finally did, he quickly gained the status of a legend, which he retains to this day.
So much for the brief summation of a life filled with extraordinary outward events, a kind of life that many people dream about and envy. But what is it we see at the end of the film about this legendary individual? Could it be Richter, this man with his face buried in his huge hand, overcome by utter despair? Could it be him, who just a moment ago, looking straight into the camera uttered clearly and distinctly: "I do not like myself."? Chilling and unforgettable is this moment, in which a human being pronounces judgement upon himself! How are we then to reconcile the picture of "a great life" of this man with such an ending? This is the enigma that the film puts before us.
In an attempt to probe into this enigma it might be helpful to clarify for ourselves some of the unique features of Richter's art, for it is in his art that man's innermost being is revealed. Although Richter possessed an astounding technique, he never used it for the sake of a display. He always searched for the deep inner meaning of a composition, avoiding any hint of sentimentality so prevalent in the piano playing of today. In the concert hall his presence emanated dignity, nobility, complete self-control. It is just this refinement of his playing and his being that was so striking. He didn't bowl his audience over with superficial excitement; he elevated them through the depth of his spirit and through purity.The resultant effect was the sense of harmony. It takes a finer intuition to strive for and to perceive a sense of harmony, since harmony lacks a showy effect. This was particularly noticed and appreciated by Richter's peers.
“It really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Then at some point I noticed my eyes growing moist: tears began rolling down my cheeks...”
(Attributed to Arthur Rubinstein, upon hearing Richter for the first time)
"...Svyatoslav Richter is the first among his peers. A happy combination of a mighty (super-mighty!) spirit with depth, purity of soul (chastity!) and consummate skill, is indeed a unique phenomenon." (PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST by Heinrich Neuhaus)
It is a well-documented (and puzzling) fact that on quite a few occasions Richter was extremely dissatisfied with some of his performances, while everyone else thought them to be superb. Perhaps, he felt them to be lacking in this essential quality of harmony; perhaps, he felt that this or that "amazing" detail disturbed the harmony of the whole. Be that as it may, there is no question that Richter held harmony as a supreme ideal to be striven for not only in art, but in life. The following is an excerpt from an article in "High Fidelity" magazine, October 1958, "Sviatoslav Richter: Sequestered Genius" by Paul Moor:
We can assume with certainty that by "harmony" Richter did not mean a state of self-enjoyment, in which one indulges in a variety of earthly pleasures. Richter's longing for harmony went far deeper in addressing man's spiritual state of being, which certainly does involve the partaking of earthly enjoyments but in a way as yet unknown to humanity. In fact, humanity as a whole has completely lost a true meaning and concept of harmony so essential to life itself! As a great artist with a heightened sense of intuition Richter felt this loss more acutely than the others. And at the end of his life he unmistakably sensed that, despite all his accomplishments, he has missed something absolutely essential for life. We, as humanity, can no longer find a way to restore harmony in our lives without the help of a special Knowledge of life. Had we not entangled ourselves so badly, we would have been able to attain to this Knowledge out of life itself. But for today's humanity this is no longer possible, because we lack the keenness of the spirit, which alone can make the right observations and draw the right conclusions from them. The only road left to us is through the detailed explanations about life as such, which we experience every day and yet fail to learn from. These explanations are offered to us in the book "IN THE LIGHT OF TRUTH: THE GRAIL MESSAGE" by Abd-ru-shin (originally written in German).
Richter, having been born into a family where he was able to gain command of the German language, could have easily come across this book in his travels even before it was translated into Russian in 1991 had he been seeking more intensely, with all the might of his spirit. Still, it is not too late for a human being in the beyond, who seeks actively. And "not liking oneself" is a far more promising attitude to go into the beyond with than the common self-satisfaction. He, who longs for harmony, will find the way to realize it through the Knowledge given in the book of Abd-ru-shin.