The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (238): It was 50 years ago today

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (238): It was 50 years ago today


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2020

… that Maria Yudina died. She was, with Maria Grinberg, the foremost Russian interpreter of the Beethoven sonatas.

Partly because they were women, they never received the attention granted to Richter and Gilels.

It also did not help that they were Jewish and, in Yudina’s case, a convert to Russian Orthodoxy. A friend of Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, Yudina was banned from the stage for several years after giving recitals of their poetry.


She died on November 19, 1970 at the age of 71.


  • A.L. says:

    Here she is performing Bach-Liszt. Playing so gothic and perverse it qualifies as great, with a capital G.

  • Occamsrazor says:

    My parents knew her and visited her in the hospital shortly before her passing. She was a unique, saintly, deeply orthodox lady who spent every penny and more on feeding stray cats and giving to the church. She was almost unknown outside of Soviet Union but very famous in her country just like Sofronitsky who also fed stray cats. She was far from a stereotypical meekly Christian saint and had a somewhat elegantly cruel sense of humor. When she had a student who had memorized wrong notes due to being what Russian musicians call “deaf”, she never corrected their mistakes and let them perform in public so that everyone could see their lack of talent. She was one of Stalin’s favorite musicians along with Gilels, he was amused with her political incorrectness and let her do her quixotic things. She wasn’t bothered much with technical perfection in her later years and unfortunately many helpless Russian pianists have freed themselves from the responsibility of achieving and maintaining a certain technical standard because of her example. Her health was far from good but she had a magical spirit that came through in spite of the technical imperfections of her later years. The helpless ones took her example as an excuse for laziness and she was the farthest from lazy. Many a time I’ve heard after a disastrous concert: “ Look at Yudina, every other note is wrong sometimes “. They lacked the talent to hear the value of her right ones. Her influence on Russian pianists was mostly negative because her good qualities cannot be imitated and her bad ones caused by poor health gave plenty of crazy piano wannabes a false hope for a success without technical perfection. It’s entirely their fault, not hers. Nevertheless, one of her arthritic fingers contained more music than a cargo train of today’s competition winners.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Maria Yudina is a formidable pianist in her records of Taneyev’s piano quintet, Shostakovich’s second sonata, Beethoven’s concertos and sonatas with a very fine Hammerklavier, and two Mozart concertos. The 23rd was on Stalin’s dacha phonograph the night he died. She remindsme of Anna Akhmatova; both were early friends of Pasternak and Shostakovich, her younger classmate with Vladimir Sofronitzki in Leonid Nikolayev’s piano class at Leningrad Conservatory.

    Maria Grinberg, more lyrical, less fast and driven, plays Beethoven sonatas and concertos, choosing Carl Reinecke’s rare cadenza for the fourth concerto. Backhaus and Moiseiwitsch play Reinecke’s still finer cadenza for the third concerto on their records. It’s at least as good as Beethoven’s or Edwin Fischer’s. I can’t remember Kempff’s, who plays his own.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Edgar I am glad to see you mentioned her recording of the Tanayev Piano Quintet. A CD of that work was how I first heard Yudina, and first heard that Quintet (1957, with the Beethoven Quartet, presumably the original makeup of Dmitri Tsyganov and Vasily Shirinsky on violin, Vadim Borisovsky, viola, and and cellist Sergei Shirinsky. Both made an immediate strong impression — the relative neglect of the Tanayev is unaccountable. I am not saying it should replace Brahms or Schumann or Dvořák, but it should certainly be in the next tier with Franck and Elgar, and personally I’d rank it higher than those two.

      On the CD I was sent for review, the remainder of the disc contained marvelous and evocative works by Szymanowski (Variations op. 3, Preludes op. 1, recorded 1956); also works that should be heard regularly and by the greatest virtuoso artists. For those who want to seek it out, it is Arlecchino ARL A59, Volume IX of “The Art of Maria Yudina.” I have looked in vain in local used record/CD shops for other volumes. But they are out there somewhere.

      (I have no idea why I was sent that disc for review, as I supposed to be strictly a reviewer of string music, but I was glad to get it. Sometimes my worthy editor liked to push us out of our comfort zone; other times he jumped to conclusions over whether someone was a violinist or not, often based on their name!)

      One of the things mentioned in the program notes to that CD: she also taught singing at the Moscow Convervatory and Gnesin Institute, and carefully prepared and presented revivals of Tanayev’s “Orestes.”

    • Occamsrazor says:

      Maria Grinberg was a well- rounded person who worked out regularly which was unheard of among the Soviet intelligentsia at the time, any hint of anything remotely sensible or mundane was a one way ticket out of the company of the delusional wannabes who imitated the purely superficial attributes of Yudina’s genuinely spiritual persona. I’ve read a short memoir about her by a guy who came out of his apartment to work out a bit outside to get rid of a bad hangover. He befriended Grinberg who was also working out there. They either had a brief affair or a good friendship which I forget,working out together and drinking a little. From all accounts she was of totally sound mind who enjoyed life and didn’t walk around with a messiah complex like Yudina. It will take many teams of military psychiatrists to begin to remedy the mental damage still being caused by Yudina among Russian musicians to this day. To doubt that her saintly antics were mostly or even completely genuine is incorrect due to her trying to help random people by giving away all her money to charity during her entire life although a cynical person may suspect that her notoriety was worth more to her than money. The entire generation of copy cats who saw an opportunity to elevate themselves to the status of spiritual elite, owe their delusions to Yudina who did achieve unique success and adoration that can be given by only Russian public that reflexively accepts the overall lack of common sense and practical concerns as the signs of sainthood. None of the deluded imitators ever achieved any success because even in her original, mostly genuine case of sainthood-piano combo, it didn’t have a universal appeal even in Russia which has been the premier consumer of any commodity offered by shamans, psychics, village healers, gypsy fortune tellers etc and many are turned off by an artist balancing at the edge of madness. It becomes a sad spectacle in itself. The imitators could be seen in conservatory lobbies grandstanding and talking way too loudly about abstract philosophical matters. I’m sure you can still encounter a few of these village idiots around Russian conservatories, still shoving their empty outward signs of spirituality and culture into anyone who would give them a little attention. If Yudina came to the west and tried her shtick without some very necessary toning down the most shocking aspects of her demeanor and dress, she would not only achieve zero success but would be lucky to escape back without undergoing a psych evaluation. The imitators imagined her art and life to be a sinecure worth trying to also acquire. There is no limit to how many opportunities for grandstanding in the hopes of monetizing them, the average Russian “intellectual” will seek and even invent. The condition is incurable and is highly entertaining to watch, being a rather harmless variety of delusions of grandeur affecting mostly Russian patients, although Liszt created a highly successful business model in Europe selling shamanic piano experiences to those whose self-esteem required regular reporting of having them in hopes of impressing the impressionable. Some of the most severe Russian cases would occasionally lose it completely, cross into the clinical madness territory because they were in such a hurry to usurp the imaginary place among their colleagues as Yudina-style spiritual and philosophical figures that they would find a well -lit spot at an intellectual gathering and loudly self-appoint themselves to be Bach’s and Mozart’s friends. Such self-appointments are always done by one friend of Bach and Mozart at a time, it’s never a group phenomenon, each of the sufferers reaching the full ripeness for an asylum at their own pace.This truly ominous symptom has been observed by me more than once in individual patients, hence I’ve used plural. Woody Allen is highly knowledgeable about music and he alone can do justice to the comic potential of the Russian music world and its personal friends of Bach and Mozart. If done right such movie could equal his “Love and Death”.

      • Nicholas says:

        Whether or not Maria Yudina’s unconventional behavior was genuine or manufactured, it was courageous of her to not accept communist political dogma and atheism by the cruel, mundane, conformist, dimwitted ruling class which included the Soviet intelligentsia. She did not submit to the party bosses.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Shostakovich have earned Maria Yudina universal appeal.
    But Sviatoslav Richter noted her devotion to modern composers who were somewhat risqué in the USSR: Hindemith, Bartók, and to the surprise of some, Ernst Křenek.

    Yudina’s magnificent rendition of his Sonata no. 2 op. 59 has not aged a day. It may be one of the very few to do this work justice. Less commonly known is her Leningrad performance, more than thirty years before, in 1926/27, of Křenek‘s fist piano concerto. Astonishing, given that Křenek‘s friend and patron, Eduard Erdmann, who had commissioned the work, also performed it there himself during his Russian tournée in late 1926. Culture in the USSR had not yet quite solidified into the crushing concrete block that would destroy so many lives only a few years later, culminating in the stultifying terror of the Zhdanov period.

  • christopher storey says:

    The piano sound is very distinctive, and the playing is wonderful, particularly in the more reflective variations

    PS I love the cat !

  • Nick says:

    One of the greatest Pianists and Personalities ever lived. And one of the greatest women-artists ever lived!!

  • Petros Linardos says:

    “Partly because they were women, they never received the attention granted to Richter and Gilels.”

    Yes, but Grinberg recorded all Beethoven sonatas in Soviet Russia. How did that happen? Nobody else did in Soviet Russia, as far as I know.

  • Edgar Self says:

    A story that may be new to some.

    Stalin was listening to Moscow Radio, a Mozart concerto played live by Yudina, and phoned the station to ask if there was a record and to send him a copy. “Of course, Comrade Stalin.” But there was no record. Yudina, the conductor and musicians were recalled to make one. The conductor was replaced after a change of clothes. Yudina was impassive/ “The ocean was only knee-deep for her”, recalled Shostakovich, who told the story. A record was made for Stalin, who sent Yudina a gift of money. She wrote him: “Dear Josef Vissarionovich — Thank you for the money, which I gave to the Church. I will pray for you and your great sins against the Russian people.” Stalin smiled, and laid it aside. She lived.

    Her record was on Stalin’s bedside phonograph the night he died. It was evidently the last music he heard.

  • Morgan says:

    Her recording of Stravinsky’s Serenade in A is a force to be reckoned with. Sweeps the board.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Shake, David Nelson, on Taneyev’s piano quintet and Yudina’s recording with the Beethoven Quartet.

    Taneyev’s Prelude and Fugue in G# minor for piano is another winner, ecstatic, Scriabinesque, so difficult Mitropoulos told Cliburn to learn it for the Tchaikovsky competition to impress the Russian judges, who included Richter and Shostakovich. Cliburn did but said it nearly killed him and was the hardest thing he ever played. Leila Zilberstein recorded it marvelously for DGG with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. I’ve never found a reord Cliburn is said to have made in Russia.

    Jerome Lowenthal found the score of Tanayev’s quintet in Alaska on a visit there, probably left by Russian fur traders, and performed it there the next year before recording it.

    Have you heard Leonid Kogan’s :Nel cor piu” variations on YouTube yet? Nag, nag. Unabridged, out-doesVasa Prihoda, and in video for full frontal-brutal effect.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Yes I have Edgar (but the version I know is pure audio) and intended to reply to your prior “nag” but couldn’t find it. It is a different edition than I am used to – and that is one piece where I don’t even bother buying the sheet music, much less accumulate various editions for comparison purposes. Perhaps we will have a better opportunity to discuss it on Slipped Disc in the future. I will look for the video in the meantime

      • Edgar Self says:

        Thanks, David. Until then. I’m no ta violinist but wass bowled over. Leonid Kogan’s “Nel cor piu” Paganini ivariations are certainly different from, and longer than Vasa Prihoda’s, which I had understood were a standard by which others are judged.

        I enjoyed your post about Maud Powell on the Camilla Wicks thread.