Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sviatoslav Richter

Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), like Vladimir Horowitz, was a closeted gay man who had a life-long female companion. Richter was a Soviet sponsored cultural ambassador who had everything to lose if his sexual nature reached the public eye. Consequently, many biographies ignore or gloss over anything about his personal relationships. While we know few details, we are left with a towering musical legacy, especially through recordings and videotaped performances. Most critics agree that Richter was one of the greatest pianists of all time.

Back in the days when I was a university piano performance major, I knew nothing about Richter’s personal proclivities, but most of my fellow students repeated the rampant (and true) gay rumors about Horowitz and Shura Cherkassky, another Russian keyboard titan. Aside from his brilliant piano recordings and performances, when we spoke about Richter, our conversations were mostly related to his role in insisting that Van Cliburn, an upstart American pianist, receive first prize in the Tschaikovsky International Piano Competition that took place in Moscow in 1958.

Richter, who was stunningly handsome as a young man, had many personal demons. He was withdrawn and not given to interviews, and often he insisted on performing in completely darkened halls illuminated by a single light bulb above the keyboard. Subject to periods of keen depression, he went through a period during which he had to travel with a plastic lobster in order to cope with the rigors of constant performing to unrealistic public expectations. I’m not making this up.

Nevertheless, Richter left us with recordings that remain benchmarks of certain repertoire. His vast repertoire encompassed eighty-odd recital programs, everything from Bach and Handel to Gershwin. He was also a quick study. He learned Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7, which was dedicated to him, in four days, thus able to meet the deadline for its premiere.

But enough words. Let’s listen to the music.


  1. Probably jealous of Richter's success in the US, the novelist Vladimir Nabokov described him as "a flaming fag."

    1. amideg, check your facts - it was Nicolas Nabokov who said that; not Vladimir.

  2. Richter and Gilels were two towering giants of the piano world.

  3. Richter was one of the greatest of 20th century pianists. His Rachmaninoff 2nd is the best I know, although I like Ivan Davis for second place.

    When I was first at Juilliard, Bobby deGaetano was also, maybe 4 years older (he died 4 years ago, I was totally shocked when I only found out a few months ago.) He was a great beauty at the time, and Richter obviously fell in love with him. Even on television, you would see Bobby turning pages for him, and he travelled with him for a time. I heard him at Carnegie once, and should have heard him more. I like that you put photos of him as a young man; he probably saw in Bobby some of his own youthful beauty, although Bobby was the far sexier and more voluptuous (and not 1% the musician.)