Sviatoslav Richter: How I practise the piano

Sviatoslav Richter: How I practise the piano


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2020


The most compelling pianist that ever lived?

The other man in the room looks like he’s just swallowed his teeth.



  • M2N2K says:

    We don’t really learn from this video anything about “how” he practiced. Other than his considerable pianistic power that is truly impressive, I do not hear much else that is extraordinary in his playing. To my ears, he remains one of the most overrated musicians of last century.

    • Dave says:

      To each his/her own, it makes the world go around! As a big Richter fan, it does surprise me when someone doesn’t share my sensibility, but I think we shouldn’t assume that our perspective should be the norm. Calling him “overrated” discredits other people’s appreciation and places yourself in the center. I think a bit of humility when it comes to musical tastes can go a long way.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        I happen to agree with you, Dave, re: your opinion of Richter. He is indeed superb, one of the great pianists of the 20th c., and I find the playing on this short clip lovely.
        But if M2N2K opines that he is overrated, what difference could that possibly make to the appreciation of others? It doesn’t “discredit” anything – it is merely an opinion.
        If someone feels “discredited” because someone disagrees with them on a matter of personal taste, then it seems to me that they must have a pretty thin skin (and a self-esteem problem).
        And “humility when it comes to musical tastes”? I find that thought to be rather laughable (see Slonimsky, Nicholas: The Lexicon of Musical Invective).
        I took some flak on this blog when I stated my dislike of Horowitz and called HIM overrated. (I even tried to describe why my opinion is what it is. Most of the naysayers and trolls on this blog do not bother to do so.)
        So what?
        Believe me, I’m not losing any sleep because someone disagrees with me on SlippedDisc. And I certainly do not and did not feel “discredited”.
        Bottom line: you feel one way, M2N2K feels differently.
        And, guess what: the world still goes on!

        • M2N2K says:

          Well said, Greg Bottini. For me, Horowitz was a far greater pianist than Richter: most of the time, music shined under the former’s fingers, while the latter often sounded to me as if he was trying to pound the music into submission. And I never suggested or implied anywhere that my opinion was the only “correct” one.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      If we judged Richter strictly by his worst recordings, I would totally agree that he was overrated. For instance, I could live without many of his Mozart recordings.

      If we judged him by his best, his place in the pantheon of the greatest musicians is secure. Many of his recordings of Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven and Russian music are as good as they get. I feel very privileged to have heard him live several times in the 70s. Back in 1978, he gave the same recital program twice within a couple days, and of course I attended both recitals.

    • Alexander T says:

      What cobblers.

    • F. P. Walter says:

      Just another non-achiever tearing down an achiever. Yawn.

      • M2N2K says:

        If a mere “non-achiever” by simply expressing his personal opinion can “tear down” an “achiever”, than the latter must not have been such a strong achiever to begin with.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Easy when you know how, aye.

    • Terence says:

      I did learn from seeing the softness of his hands and then, in the Liszt, how he leaned his weight into the keys.

      Every little bit helps though I’m far from Richter.

      • M2N2K says:

        But those are characteristics of his playing that one can see and hear in his performances rather than those that are particular qualities of his practicing.

    • Misha Shvartsman says:

      As far as being overrated it will never be an issue with your trivial low class low information comments

      • M2N2K says:

        That comment of mine was not about “information” but about expressing an opinion – just like yours. At least mine was about SR’s piano playing which is much worthier subject than is my comment which is the subject of yours.

  • Steven says:

    WOW!! No other pianist can make a piano sound like a full orchestra. His recording of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude No.5 in G minor continues to blow me away.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      And his “Pictures at an Exhibition” is truly stunning.

      • Shalom Rackovsky says:

        I heard him play Pictures live twice- once at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (!!!) in NYC, and once at Symphony Hall in Boston. There are no words adequate to describe these performances. His version of the Great Gate of Kiev made the Ravel orchestration sound pale and tinny.

  • Elvira says:

    No words,just supreme pianism

  • christopher storey says:

    I can’t say I found anything terribly compelling about that. In the Liszt he sounded like an entrant for a piano smashing competition

    • F. P. Walter says:

      Ho hum. Yet another non-achiever belittling an achiever.

      • Brook Noidiots says:

        Or perhaps someone with different taste. I’m sure there are artists and interpretations you’d don’t care for. Or do you unilaterally like everyone and everything? You are not being intellectually honest.

  • sam says:

    Great video, lucky we’re all Russian speakers who read Japanese. ; )

  • Maria Alice Volpe says:

    Yes, the most compelling pianist that ever lived!

  • Nick says:

    Not practicing really. But a memorable clip!!!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Oh, so a performance in his own house and not practicing. We get that!!

      The Liszt Sonata – perfection!!!

  • Rob says:

    A string vest always helps.

  • F. P. Walter says:

    Amazing workout w/ the Liszt final stretto … as metronomically regular as I’ve ever heard it, without a single accommodation of the technical difficulties — wherever Richter’s fingers need to be, they’re there exactly on time! Plus he’s using a normal-action instrument!

    Along w/ Rubinstein and Arrau, Richter’s among the greatest of all CONCERT PIANISTS. (Unlike the many who are largely classroom and studio players or living-room recluses.)

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I was lucky enough to see him twice in London with his Anglepoise lamp. Wonderful.

  • Andrew Matthews says:

    He isn’t practising he is performing. He should play the most difficult passage and the teacher needs to take it apart bar by bar. Every note chord, and phrase to ask him why do you do it that way? We hear virtually nothing of that.

  • Alton Slater says:

    Out of this world sensational.

  • fflambeau says:

    Is he playing an upright piano? That in itself is amazing.

    • Sharon says:

      In a biographic film of his life I saw a number of years ago he mentioned that touring in the Soviet Union right before, during, and after WWII he had to make do with whatever piano was available. A lot of them were of poor quality or untuned.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    The first thought that comes to my mind, is not the playing itself, because nobody needs to know what anyone or I feel or think about that. What I love is that he was part of the continuum of pianists allowing the music to evolve and live on through him and his hands to future generations. In the end, that is the most important thing for all of us to do. His spirit then lives on, and we are fortunate to have technology that allows us to have these historical recordings proving the music was alive during his time. Also, it is good to have performances of those times so one can refer to these in the future as new generations interpret the music in its continuum. More than the effortless pianism he exhibited in the faster pieces, I appreciated his devotion to the introverted beauty of Schubert’s music. That reached my soul much more than the virtuosic music.

  • Sharon says:

    I remember seeing a number of years ago a movie about his life largely based on recordings of his interviews. Gave a lot of insight as to what life was for artists in the USSR and the Stalinist era and the prevalent fear and all encompassing fear that existed even among (and within) those who were lauded by the government.

    Towards the end of his life he gave free concerts mainly in churches after he emigrated to France. He said that if they are free it takes the snob or society appeal out of concert attendance and the audience that remains is there only truly those who love music.

    The last several years of his life Nureyev gave inexpensive ticket dance performances in lesser venues. There may have been a lot of reasons for this, not least of which he wanted to support the career of his former masseuse and bodyguard, who had been loyal for many years, and who was trying to become an agent, and also that Nureyev was declining, but I wonder if part of it was that he was trying to imitate Richter whom he admired.

  • Alexy says:

    This is not practising . This is just playing some excerpts. No slow play and careful polishing. But nevertheless incredible energy and nice to see. One of the giants of XX century.

  • A Pianist says:

    Everyone is so sure this is not Richter practicing. I am not so sure! It was said about Argerich’s practice sessions “elle se donne des concerts”. This is a guy who by one anecdote played all of Tristan through by ear at the piano in front of his friends to pass a boring Soviet afternoon. Do we really know how he practiced?

    • M2N2K says:

      No we do not and after seeing this video we still do not know how he actually practiced. And if he was such a genius that his practicing consisted of nothing but performing, then it has no educational value for us mortals.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Stunning stuff. Not one superfluous movement, a completely effective and perfect technique. More, please!

  • Brook Noidiots says:

    Stop encouraging lazy hierarchical thinking. There is no “the best” or “the most” and these silly hyperbolic gasps of amazement make you sound sophomoric.

  • buxtehude says:

    What really opened my ears to SV was this live performance of the the A b maj fugue of op 87, not forgetting the prelude here, leading to fields of daydreams like so many of the other preludes . . .

    Not only the stonking technique but his x-ray of the score en route to discovering so much beauty there — no other pianist comes remotely close on this one, and I’ve heard more than a dozen attempts, probably.


  • Robin says:

    I enjoy the performances of Sviatoslav Richter, his passion is impeccable. I am reminded a bit of South African composer Liam Pitcher. Sviatoslav and Liam share the same passion and intense understanding of the piano.