Svyatoslav Richter, who rose to fame in the Soviet Union in the 1940s to become one of the 20th century’s leading pianists, died Friday at a Moscow hospital from a heart attack, the Russian Culture Ministry said. He was 82.
He had been taken to Central Clinical Hospital on Thursday after complaining of chest pains at his country home outside Moscow, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.
Richter was known for his brilliant technique and a repertoire that included practically all styles, from Bach to Debussy, from Prokofiev to Shostakovich.
Richter was hailed by Russia’s NTV television network Friday night as “a symbol of our country, a symbol of European culture and performer No. 1.”
“He was one of the last musicians whose creativity was recognizable from the first note - like Akhmatova’s poetry is recognizable from the first word, or the prose of Bunin and Bulgakov, like one can recognize Rodin the sculptor,” said Nikolai Petrov, a top Russian pianist.
“A whole epoch has gone with him,” Petrov told Russian Public Television.
Two years ago, on Richter’s 80th birthday, President Boris Yeltsin called his musical interpretations “a source of inspiration and love of beauty.”
He was born March 20, 1915, in Zhitomir, Ukraine. Svyatoslav Teofilovich Richter learned music from his father, a pianist and organ player and began conducting at the Odessa Opera House while still a teenager from 1933-37. He gave his first solo piano concert in 1934, also in Odessa.
From 1937-47, Richter studied at the Moscow Conservatory under well-known pianist Heinrich Neuhaus. He received his first award in 1945 at the third All-Union Competition of Concert Pianists.
He became the Soviet Union’s leading pianist in the 1940s and toured the world in the 1950s.
He toured rarely in his final years but was hardly forgotten.
Richter was named a People’s Artist of the USSR, the highest Soviet honor for a performing artist, in 1961. He also received the USSR State Prize in 1950, the Lenin Prize in 1961 and the title Hero of Socialist Labor in 1975.
After years of splitting his time between Moscow and Tarusy, a writers’ and artists’ village about 90 miles south of the capital, Richter spent his most recent years in Paris. He underwent heart surgery eight years ago in Zurich, Switzerland.
“Richter was admired for his exceptional power of expression and inimitable individuality, exquisite performance skills and a breathtaking wealth of nuances,” said Igor Veksler of ITAR-Tass.
Russian television newscasts aired tributes to Richter and showed clips of his performances, as did TV programs in the pianist’s adopted home country, where top French officials issued memorial statements.
With Richter’s death, “the piano loses one of its greatest virtuosos,” said French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. “This evening, art is in mourning.”
An unidentified family member told Interfax that Richter had returned from Paris on July 5, “as if foreseeing his death and wishing to spend his final days in his native land.”
Once back home, he played the piano three hours every day but said he was not feeling well, according to ITAR-Tass.
Burial will be Monday at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, according to Culture Ministry spokeswoman Natalya Cherkashchenko. Many of Russia’s leading cultural figures are buried at Novodevichy.
Richter is survived by his widow, Nina Lvovna Dorliak.