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This book, indispensable reading for any admirer of Richter, is mostly concerned with his childhood and formative years, when revolution was followed by civil war, famine and wartime occupation. There is also some material about his practice routine, his touring of USA and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, subsequent tours in Europe, etc. Especially touching are the anecdotes of the child’s first signs of unusual musical appreciation – his infant excitement at his father’s playing, but also his imitation of the famous hands-behind-back sketch of Beethoven.

The book’s three main parts are written by, respectively, Richter’s much younger cousin, his mother (vivid reminiscences of Russia, such as the Easter festival), and his aunt, Tamara Moskalewa, known as Meri. Richter once said that essentially his teachers had been his father, the celebrated Moscow professor Heinrich Neuhaus, and Wagner, but two of the contributors to this book also influenced him – his mother and, especially, his aunt Meri, who became surrogate mother during wartime. Both women were strong-willed and inevitably rivals for Svetik’s affection.

Svetik (Little Light) is the name by which he was known in the family. Richter and his Aunt Meri were soul-mates, totally honest with each other. This special intimacy was fostered when Richter was a child, his fertile imagination stimulated by Meri’s artistic and story-telling gifts. His relationship with his mother was damaged by her remarriage, whereas with Meri he sustained 20 years of correspondence. Because Sergei was of German extraction, Richter’s mother became separated from him for 22 years. Eventual reunions were uneasy – naturally, they had both changed – and some time after her death Richter admitted: ‘My mother died for me a long time ago.’

The book is generously illustrated – the list runs to seven pages – with many revealing photographs of Richter and dozens of brilliant sketches by Meri. This is clearly one of my books of the year.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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