If any artist has achieved legendary status then surely it is the great pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997). Toccata Press have just published Svetik - A Family Memoir of Sviatoslav Richter www.boydellandbrewer.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=10344, edited and translated by Anthony Phillips.
This new publication provides unique insights into the childhood and formative years of 'Svetik' as he was always known within the large and unusually creative family circle. It covers the years in a provincial Ukrainian city during the traumatic years of revolution, civil war, famine and wartime occupation by German and Romanian forces. Walter Moskalew, Richter's much younger cousin, is guardian of a rich collection of photographs, reminiscences, drawings and letters of family members, notably the memoirs of Richter's mother Anna and his twenty-year-long correspondence with his beloved Aunt Meri. Walter Moskalew has collaborated with editor and translator Anthony Phillips to produce an indispensable account of the influences that shaped the artistry and world-view of the phenomenon that was Sviatoslav Richter.
There is a Forward by Vladimir Ashkenazy, fascinating in itself, as well as an Introduction by Bruno Monsaingeon the French filmmaker, writer and violinist who has made a number of documentary films about famous twentieth-century musicians.
In his preface to this book editor and translator, Anthony Phillips, tells us how the book came about, from his first meeting with Richter in London in 1961, his accompanying the pianist on his second USA tour in 1965 where he met some of Richter’s relatives including Walter Moskalew and Aunt Meri (Tamara Pavolovna Moskalewa) to the ten year collaboration that brought this volume to fruition.
Lavishly illustrated (the List of Illustrations takes up seven pages), the Memoir opens with a Genealogy of the Moskalew Family. This is an essential part of the book in enabling an understanding of the family history and family connections as well as the diminutives of names and name changes. Notes on Names, Transliterations, Dates, Russian Forms of Address and Other Conventions is equally useful.
Part I: Three Sisters – A Family History is Walter Moskalewa’s own account of Sviatoslav Richter’s family history. In seven sections, 1. Zhitomir, Odessa and the War traces the family history from Richter’s grandparents, Pavel Moskalev and Elizabeth von Reincke to Richter’s parents, father Theofil Richter (1872-1941) and mother Anna Richter (nee Moskalewa) (1892-1963). Richter’s beloved Aunt Tamara Pavlovna Moskalewa (known as Meri) (1898-1984) was as strong willed as her sister Anna ( known as Nyuta) and they often clashed but when later separated, they carried on a large and affectionate correspondence.
Aunt Meri was a gifted artist, studying art in Kiev. Her drawings often appear throughout the book. The story takes us through Sviatoslav Richter’s birth in Zhitomir in 1915, the outbreak of World War I with Nyuta’s absence in Odessa nursing the sick Theo. Unable to return due to the war and travel difficulties it brought about the first extended absence from her son. Meri returned from Kiev to look after Svetik and, with idyllic times in Zhitomir, cemented a close relationship with the young pianist. Later we follow the family through Richter’s entry into the Moscow Conservatory, the family evacuation from Zhitomir in 1943 and their subsequent scattering, Nyuta to Stuttgart and Walter’s family to Poland.
1. Anna Richter’s troubled marriage to Theo is covered as well as her second
marriage to Sergei Kontratiev (1883-1973). Theo was eventually shot in 1941 as an alleged German spy.
2. Schwäbisch Gmünd brings Walter’s memories of Nyuta and Sergei Kontratiev, the history of Sergei and Sviatoslav Richter’s dislike of him.
3. Nyuta, Svetik and Meri takes us to 1960 when Nyuta, now separated from Svetik, manages to get a letter smuggled to him in the USSR. Nyuta and Sergei fly to New York for Richter’s tour and Carnegie Hall debut, collected by Meri and her husband Fritz who take them to Boston where they all meet with Sevtik and his wife Nina. There is much written here about Richter’s tour, the music and photographs, many informal. There is a further meeting with his mother in Bayreuth in 1961 but relations were poor, Richter later writing ‘My mother died for me a long time ago…’
4. More Tours of America covers Aunt Meri’s trip to Salzburg and her meeting with Svetik and Nina as well as the pianist’s concerts in Canada and US tour. There is fascinating information about Richter’s technique and practice methods as well as 1970’s photos of the pianist with fellow pianist Misha Dichter and Nina with violinist David Oistrakh.
5. Sorrow and Joy brings the death of Sviatoslav Richter’s godfather, his Uncle Kolya (Nikolai Reincke) (1891-1975), Richter’s European tours and his alleged financial problems, something that his wife Nina spoke of but Svetik denied. Aunt Meri accompanied her nephew on these Europe tours.
6. Reginald and Dora covers correspondence between Meri and Svetik where she writes on Svetik’s life as an artist and all the travelling and touring. In her diary she is even more critical of her nephew’s lifestyle writing ‘…he is exceedingly capricious, wilful and does things that are obviously bad for his health. He only considers his own wishes…’ Yet there are photographs of a very relaxed Richter, taken on tour.
Drawings by Richter show him to have been a very competent artist and an exhibition of his paintings arranged by Yelina, aunt of Richter and mother of Walter, in Tbilisi in 1975 is mentioned.
7. Holding on to Imagination with Both Hands brings more about Aunt Meri including a poem by her as well as further criticism of Richter’s lifestyle. He responds with a drawing showing mountain peaks and valleys representing an interesting life and comparing that with a straight line showing a boring life. This section covers Aunt Meri’s decline and death in 1984.
Part II: My Life – The Memoirs of Anna Moskalewa-Richter is more of a conventional, though personal account of the family history with old family photographs, including family wedding photographs and accounts of life in pre-revolutionary Russia and Ukraine.
The story runs through World War I and the birth of Svetik as well as revolution and the family change of circumstances. There is an account of Svetik’s early musical life and many photos of the young pianist.
Part III: Sviatoslav Richter as a Young Boy is Aunt Meri’s (Tamata Moskalewa/Dagmar von Reincke) written account in the aftermath of her sister’s illness and death in Zhitomir in 1919. It is in the form of a letter to her friend in Odessa. Sixty years later she sent a typed version to Svetik with an accompanying explanation. This section of the book finishes with The Four Generations Table: A Memoir for Svetik –following ‘grandfather’s table through its history as it is passed through the family.
There is a Glossary of Names and Places and a comprehensive Index.
No Richter enthusiast will want to be without this fascinating book. Anthony Phillips has done a remarkable job in his editing of what must have been an overwhelming amount of family history.