Raking over Richter’s dry bones

Raking over Richter’s dry bones


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2019

The New York Times has published on its opinion pages a huge meditation by the film-maker Errol Morris about the indelible Soviet-era pianist.

He tells us Richter was a depressive who relied on a red plastic lobster to cheer him up.

Neither of these facts is new; they have appeared in several books, in Russian and English.

Morris also reproduces an 11 year-old conversation with Bruno Monsaingeon, who adds little to what we have seen in his film on Richter, and a more recent chat with Jeremy Denk, who never knew Richter.

There are plenty of people alive who did.

So what’s the point?

Read it here.



  • Caravaggio says:

    Strange piece that came in from the void. Very unexpected surprise to find it published in the NY Times. Its character seemed more in line for The New Yorker.

    • MWnyc says:

      I see what you mean about it seeming more like a New Yorker piece, but it’s not unlike several other pieces that Errol Morris has done for the Times online Op-Ed section.

  • Keen Ned says:

    What’s the ooint? Ker-ching!

  • Andy says:

    ‘What’s the point’? – It’s a long essay about bleakness and achievement that provides no comfort, using Richter (who was one of the greatest of them all) as a focal point. It’s not supposed to be ‘news’, or ‘new information’. It’s very good. I enjoyed it, a lot of other people yesterday were saying they found it fascinating too. Richter has been dead over 20 years, but remains a giant, it’s great that someone has published something this week that might lead someone to seek out his recordings, or to learn more about him. I’m going to put on his 1960 Brahms B-flat concerto recording and read it again.

    • Eden says:

      I totally agree. I for one did not know about Richter and his lobster totem and I imagine there are many people who don’t. I’m grateful there’s a place for such articles in the NYTimes.

  • Crustacean says:

    Give us more depressives with plastic lobsters if they play like Richter

    • Dennis says:

      He should have gone full Gerard de Nerval, with a live lobster on a silk leash from the Queen of Sheba’s garter!

  • esfir ross says:

    Andrei Gavrilov in his book reveal a lot.

  • James says:

    I found the article absolutely fascinating! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Weak journalism from Errol Morris. Surprised the NYT ran it.

  • LondonPianist says:

    Such a bitter post, Norman. It’s a lovely, long, thought-provoking article, and a lot of people who read it won’t know much about Richter or his lobster. And good on the New York Times for printing such a piece.

  • Mickelson says:

    I found the article to be highly interesting and entertaining. Yes, I knew much of the outline of the history, but I still enjoyed it thoroughly and am glad that such a piece on a giant of classical music was featured so prominently at the NYT if only for a day or two. I admit that I was put off by the section with Jeremy Denk. I think Mr. Denk is fabulous, and I mean him no disrespect, but I feel that he wasn’t the right person for this article. He seemed unprepared and didn’t really have much to offer regarding the main themes of the article.

  • Sharon says:

    Not every article or comment has to be original. Like classical music itself, important cultural information, and that includes the psychology of major musicians, should be repeated from time to time, for a new audience.

    I read biography and see biographical documentaries because I can learn a lot about the lives of others, both from their successes and mistakes, that I can apply to me own life. Young artists can learn much from the lives and psychology of older artists.