What quality is there in pianists of the highest calibre apart from an astonishing natural genius, linked with ‘an infinite capacity for taking pains’? They must also possess a mysterious divine force, so that they are seen to be God-inspired, like the Homeric bard who
was aroused, began his God and showed forth song1.
But this force is the possession of a very few, whom we must honour in the same way as the epic heroes cherished that ‘much-loved singer’.
For a long time Sviatoslav Richter's divine force lay hidden in the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. In those days we had only occasional rumours about mysterious happenings at wonderful concerts, and about Russian initiates who attended, ‘maddened by the breath of God’ 2. Those stories were legendary and not easy to confirm. However, when at last some thirty years ago he gave concerts in London, the audiences were moved by the same emotion and mental disturbance. What followed needs no elaboration -- cheers and shouts3. Later on after a performance of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata at King's College, Cambridge, the audience just refused to let him leave. We in Britain have come to realise that our honorand does not reproduce a work of music: he creates it, and with a sheer ability which is so subtle and so intense that each section of a work appears to have been instantly invented, yet as part of a complete structure which is evident to everybody.
In his playing there is an underlying Russian wildness and savagery, restrained and shaped by German discipline. His father, Teofil Richter, who taught him the elements of music, had long lived in Vienna; later on in the Moscow Conservatory he was steeped in the austere training of the Germans by another strict teacher, Heinrich Neuhaus. Thus at last he developed and restrained the gigantic power of his left hand.
His repertoire is a wide one: Schubert, of whom he is particularly fond, Liszt, whose sonata he has brilliantly interpreted; and most of the classical composers. He advised Sergei Prokofiev when he was composing, and gave the first performance of his sixth and seventh sonatas. The ninth sonata is dedicated to him. He accompanied Rostropovich, whom we honored in this theatre some ten years ago, when he played the 'cello in the first performance of Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto.
He has received many Russian honours. He holds the Order of Lenin, and recently won a Lenin Prize. He was placed first in the third Soviet Competition of Executant Musicians. As well as his father, his mother was a musician; so also is his wife, Nina, who often sings to his accompaniment.
I present Sviatoslav Richter, most eminent musician in a country of musicians, for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Music.
1 Homer, Odyssey 8.499.
2 Euripides, Bacchae 1094.
3 Cicero, ad Atticum 1.14.4.