Léonie Sonning Awards 1986

Svjatoslav Richter

The pianist Sviatoslav Richter received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 7.30pm on Sunday, 15 June 1986 in Tivoli Concert Hall.
The music prize was presented behind the stage after the concert by Professor Poul Birkelund.

The programme

Beethoven Rondo no. 1 in C major
  Rondo no. 2 in G major
  Piano sonata op. 101
  The Diabelli Variations


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize is awarded to Sviatoslav Richter in admiration of his intensive art of the piano which, in a unique way, unites expression, characterisation and articulation, created by a mind and an instinct that unruffledly identifies itself with the ideal execution of the works played.

Sviatoslav Richter in Denmark

Sviatoslav Richter had been in Denmark before – once in Copenhagen, and the very first time in 1961, when he was soloist with the Horsens City Orchestra, conducted by Ib Glindemann. There are also many links between Richter and the many other recipients of the music prize: a couple of years before being awarded it, Richter played Debussy and Ravel with Daniel Barenboim as conductor of the Orchestre de Paris; the year before he played Britten’s Lachrymae in Moscow together with Yuri Bashmet; in Budapest they played Shostakovich together; the same year he accompanied Peter Schreier in Schubert’s Winterreise – and from the French festival in Tours Richter and Boulez had a close acquaintance.

The idea was that Pierre Boulez would conduct the concert, in which Richter would play Beethoven’s first piano concerto (the original plan was Stravinsky’s Capriccio), but the concert (12 June) had to be cancelled, because Sviatoslav Richter could not be found. The music agent Gösta Schwarck discovered him in Mantova in Italy and drove him to Copenhagen, where it was possible to carry out the concert on 15 June.

When the prize was to be handed over, Richter refused to receive it on stage. He was perhaps worried that the staff of the Soviet Embassy, who were present, would see how much money he received.

Poul Birkelund did, however, manage to give his speech while he and Richter were standing on the stage. Among other things, he said that "for decades Richter has in his playing of piano music been so synonymous with the innermost being of the composer as is humanly possible. No matter the era, style or nature of the music, Richter has congenially been able to add yet another dimension to the works in terms of beauty and experience. We and the Danish audience here this evening are privileged that our gratitude and tribute can be concretely expressed through the diploma of the Sonning Music Prize."

Selected Music by Svjatoslav Richter

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"[...] Richter plays various roles, and it is the alternation between them that also makes it extra-interesting. He started the Rondo in C major so innocently as water from a spring, changed into a stormy Romantic, changed back again, became as distant as a murky clair obscur and then re-emerged again. He modulated so to speak between the characters while other have to make do with modulating between the keys."

"The sonata was a totality – one long breath – and the 33 variations were like navigating a river through constantly new landscapes at every bend. Their nature can be hard and tough – Richter is also a Russian in his playing. They can also be light and bubbly, or heavy and tragic. Only the lovable or humorous did not get a chance to speak in these Beethoven works – perhaps we would have encountered them in a different programme?"

(Thomas Viggo Pedersen, Kristeligt Dagblad, 17 June 1986)

"[…] But Richter can still overwhelm, quite literally in his playing, with a breathlessly violent assault, wilful concentration and a reservoir of resources of sound and technique that few others can boast [...] probably with greatest artistic impact in the two rondos, op. 51, which were transformed from classical bagatelles into protracted, many-sided sculptures with projections and ledges [...]"

(Jakob Levinsen, Weekendavisen, 20 June 1986)

"[...] This simplicity was underlined with great clarity in Richter’s interpretation. There were no great gestures, no great dynamic discharges, but instead a beautiful tracing of the melody, sparkling staccato runs and then the Richteresque pause, the eloquent pause where the whole audience listens breathlessly. Getting the music to say most when it says nothing [...]

They [The Diabelli Variations] begin with a simple waltz, but already in the first variations they are altered into unrecognisability, hacked to pieces in Richter’s powerful chord and octave playing, collected together again so they almost resemble themselves in the unassuming variations. [...] And immediately afterwards Richter opens up the deepest aspects of the late Beethoven with chords that somehow do not seem to be of this world, interpreted so painstakingly that one feels one is experiencing Beethoven here as never before – and will probably never do again [...]"

(Erik Stahl, Land og Folk, 17 June 1986)