Maria Yudina

Maria Yudina


• 1899 1970


Maria Yudina was a titan of the piano who spent her entire career in Soviet Russia; her recordings did not find circulation in the West until long after she died. A devout Russian Orthodox Christian born into a Jewish household, Yudina never renounced her religious convictions and remained rather forthright about expressing them throughout her lifetime, an unusual and dangerous position to maintain during the Soviet period. Watched very closely by Soviet state officials, Yudina was censured several times for her outspokenness and repeatedly passed over for promotions and conveniences that would have made her life a little easier. Nevertheless, even the highest Soviet officials adored her playing to the extent that no one dared harm her.

Born in Nevel, Yudina began to play at age 7 and studied in Vitebsk before transferring to the Petrograd Conservatory in 1918. She was a valued student of Anna Esipoff and studied under Leonid Nikolayev's class along with Vladimir Sofronitsky, and their graduate recitals were held on the same day -- May 13, 1921 -- and both included the same piece, the Liszt Sonata in B minor. Although Yudina's concert career also began at this time, she accepted a position teaching at the Petrograd Conservatory, which she held until 1930. She relocated to Tiflis Conservatory from 1930 to 1936; "the artistic atmosphere was right for me," she later remembered. From there Yudina moved to the Moscow Conservatory, where she taught until 1960, and she finished her teaching career at the Gniessen Insitute in Moscow. Her final public appearance was in Moscow on May 18, 1969; the only occasions where Yudina appeared outside Russia were in East Germany in 1950 and in Poland in 1954. Yudina recorded and broadcasted with frequency; her complete recorded works run to some 31 volumes. In 1943, Stalin ordered Yudina to record the Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A for his personal enjoyment and that it be delivered to him overnight.

Yudina was a modernist who had no interest in established historical traditions as relevant to interpretation; all of her performances were built from the ground up, and she approached every piece as though it was new and didn't belong to any tradition. Her playing was intensely personal and tended to irritate colleagues who subscribed to pre-conceived notions about interpretation. Yudina also programmed contemporary music with frequency, programming Bartók, Stravinsky, and Second Vienna School composers in complete disregard to the Soviet dictum that such music was "unacceptable." Yudina was an obsessive diarist with an excellent writing style and left among her journals detailed accounts of her meetings with famous composers and pianists that have proven invaluable to posterity. Her writings were published in Moscow in 1978 as Maria Yudina: Articles, Reminiscences and Materials.