Richter On Memorization

I was 18 years old when I attended an incredible matinée performance of Sviatoslav Richter, for the students. On the programme notes was this text of Richter that influenced me and have since then nearly always been playing with a score.

(Programme notes, Concert in Girona, Spain, Feb.1989. Translated from Catalan)

Why don’t I ever play without the score?

Unfortunately, I started too late to have the score in front of me while giving concerts, even though, it’s since a while that I imagined that one should play with it.

It is a paradox to think that in a time when the repertoire was much smaller and was less complex, one usually always played with score (a very healthy practice, that Liszt broke).

As of today, our brain, on top of being well occupied with the music, is overburdened by useless riches and runs the risk of fatiguing dangerously. What childishness and what vanity, source of useless work, is this sort of competition and memory skill, when the issue is to make good music that arrives at the listener! What a poor routine is one that satisfies itself in false glories that was already criticised by my beloved teacher Heinrich Neuhaus!

The incessant demand of playing with score would give less license to this “freedom”, to this “individuality” of the interpreter, which is used to tyranise the public and infests the music and which is nothing more than a lack of humility and absence of respect towards the music.

There is no doubt that it is not that easy to be completely free when one has the score in front, one needs more time, more work and more practice; here why the advantage of getting used to it from as early as possible. Here is an advice that I would give to all the young pianists: adopt this method that is healthy and natural, that will permit you to not burden yourself with playing the same programmes all your life, but instead give yourselves a much more rich and varied musical life.