While I have plenty of favourite pianists who are still very much with us, I decided to explore some names you might not have come across, whose playing you might not know. I first heard of Vladimir Sofronitsky when I was a postgraduate student. How had his name and his amazing playing eluded me all these years? Many of his greatest performances were not recorded, they survive as legend from those who were present to hear them. A highly complex man, he had no personal ambition or ego. In the recording studio, if he wasn’t happy he ordered the tapes to be wiped (even if the playing had astounded the recording crew). He cancelled as many concerts as he gave, but when he did show up he played encore after encore. His last performance was in Moscow in 1961.

Vladimir Sofronitsky

Vladimir Sofronitsky

Here is a short documentary about him, in Russian but fortunately subtitled in English.

Sofronitsky married Elena Scriabina (the eldest daughter of Alexander Scriabin, and his classmate in Leonid Nikolaev’s studio) in 1920. Even though he never met the composer, Elena said her husband was the most authentic interpreter of her late father’s works. Here he is in Scriabin’s 12 Études, Opus 8.

Maria Yudina was a classmate of Sofronitsky in Nikolaev’s studio – along with Shostakovich, whose music she championed. Yudina is remembered for her personal interpretations of Bach and Beethoven. Banned from performing in public because of her religious views, she was the favourite pianist of Joseph Stalin. One night, Stalin heard a performance of a Mozart concerto on the radio performed by Yudina and asked for a copy. It was a live broadcast so officials woke up Yudina, drove her to a recording studio where a small orchestra had quickly been assembled, and made her record the concerto in the middle of the night, a single copy was pressed from the matrix and then presented to Stalin.

Maria Yudina

Maria Yudina

A documentary on her life and career has recently been subtitled into English, enabling us a glimpse into her fascinating world.

Here is Maria Yudina in a live warts-and-all recital from Moscow in 1954. Of particular interest to me is her way with Beethoven’s Sonata op. 111. It is a personal and idiosyncratic view, shedding new light on a very familiar masterpiece. She certainly made me consider the work anew.

In Part 3 of my ebook series, I explore scale and arpeggio playing in depth. Included are many ideas for practising, as well as rhythm charts,  practice charts, other interactive features and video demonstrations.

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