Vladimir Sofronitsky

Vladimir Sofronitsky


• 1901 1961

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Vladimir Sofronitsky was among the greatest Russian pianists of the twentieth century, and, while he had become a somewhat less prominent figure following his death, he must be still considered in the company of Richter, Gilels, and Yudina. In his time, Sofronitsky became widely recognized as the leading interpreter of and authority on the music of Scriabin in Eastern Europe. He was also highly praised for his interpretations of the piano works of Robert Schumann and he was a highly respected teacher.

His father, a successful physicist, took the family to Warsaw in 1903, where the young Sofronitsky would grow up and develop his musical skills. As a child, he showed unusual talent on the piano and his parents arranged for studies with A. Lebedeva-Getsevich and Aleksander Michalowski. At the age of 15, Sofronitsky enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied under Leonid Nikolayev. Maria Yudina was also a student at the conservatory and soon entered the same class, where she remained with Sofronitsky for a year. She would report that he was already playing with remarkable interpretive insight and virtuosic skills. Sofronitsky also took classes in composition at the conservatory from Maximilian Steinberg. In 1920, Sofronitsky married the oldest daughter of Scriabin, Elena. While he had already divulged a sympathy for the piano music of the recently deceased mystic composer -- as attested by Yudina -- he now had a greater intellectual and emotional connection to Scriabin's works through his wife, also a talented pianist, and through the Scriabin in-laws. Sofronitsky graduated from the conservatory in 1921, giving, among other works in his recital, a performance of the Liszt Sonata in B minor, which much of the faculty and student body found both thrilling and thought-provoking. Throughout most of the 1920s, Sofronitsky built up a brilliant career as a concert pianist in Russia. His first tour abroad came in 1928 and after playing in Paris, he decided to stay on. In the end, he remained two years, then returned to his Leningrad. Sofronitsky joined the faculty at the Leningrad Conservatory in 1936 and remained there until the Nazis' infamous siege of the city. He escaped by plane to Moscow in 1942 and immediately began teaching at the conservatory there. He gave many performances at the Scriabin Museum in Moscow, especially during the latter part of his career. He gradually developed alcohol and drug addictions, and in his last years his pianistic skills declined noticeably.

Sofronitsky made a fair number of recordings in the last two decades of his life, but a relatively paltry number compared with the efforts of Richter and Gilels. Not surprisingly, Sofronitsky recorded a large number of Scriabin works and also compositions by Chopin, Rachmaninov, Schumann, Prokofiev, and others. His recorded performances from the 1940s are generally more representative than those from the last decade.