POSTPONED: The famous Russian pianist Maria Yudina


Sat 27. March 2021, 15:00


Arvo Pärt Centre


Elizabeth Wilson


The talk about the great Russian, Maria Venyaminovna Yudina (1899‒1970) will examine the larger context of her times, measuring her life against the intense intellectual and religious ferment of the post revolutionary period, the ensuing years of repression in Soviet Russia, and her exploration of contemporary music in the 1960s.

A member of philosophical circles, a convert to Orthodox religion, a student of history and philology under the most famous professors of her day at Petrograd University, Maria Yudina was far more than a brilliant pianist. Her spectacular early career ensured her position amongst the foremost musicians of the day, and already at the age of 23 she was appointed full professor of piano at the Petrograd/Leningrad Conservatoire.

Her artistic personality was formed not only by her renowned teachers, but by close contact with such towering figures as the polymath priest Father Pavel Florensky, the poet Boris Pasternak, the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, the music theorist Boleslav Yavorsky ‒ Yudina’s vision united the disparate worlds of religious philosophy, poetry, classical studies, architecture, and music, and gave her performances on stage an immense authority through a profound understanding of the scores, from Bach and Beethoven to Mussorgsky and Stravinsky.

In Russia, Yudina is remembered not just as a great pianist, but as a spiritual philosopher. Outspoken in her views, often difficult and contradictory, she was an unlikely survivor of the years of Stalinist repression, and during the Thaw years became a living witness to a world that had been destroyed. Yudina was dismissed from all the Institutions where she taught for allegedly propagating religion, playing “decadent Western” music, and thereby “perverting Soviet Youth”. In the last 13 years of her life, Yudina became a passionate champion of contemporary music. She corresponded with the icons of the Western avant-garde, from Stockhausen and Boulez to Luigi Nono and Messiaen. In the Soviet Union she was the first to believe in and perform composers like Volkonsky and Karetnikov, and was in contact with Denisov and Silvestrov. Her performances of Stravinsky’s piano works and the intense correspondence she had with the composer were important factors in his deciding to come to the Soviet Union in 1962.

Yudina learnt of Arvo Pärt’s music in the early 1960s, and passionately believed in his significance as a composer, before even hearing a note of his music. She corresponded with him and hoped that he would write for her, while declaring “He will be the Shostakovich of his age,” words which, as she understood them perhaps foresaw Pärt’s great religious pieces.

At the age of 17 Yudina wrote in her diary that Music was for her the “path to God.” Throughout her life, she perceived Art as a healing force, and believed that Music spoke the truth at its deepest moral and spiritual level. This can surely be understood from her many recordings, for instance her interpretations of Bach and Beethoven’s late piano works. Her life was a metaphor for the stoic heroism needed by ordinary people in their everyday lives, fighting to preserve their ideals.


Elizabeth Wilson was born in London. At the age of seventeen she went to Moscow to study cello in Mstislav Rostropovich’s class at the Moscow Conservatoire, remaining there for 7 years. On returning to London, she pursued a career as soloist, chamber musician and teacher, performing throughout Europe. She has been particularly active in contemporary music, and has worked with many composers, including Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, James MacMillan, Giya Kancheli, Gavin Bryars, David Matthews and Giulio Castagnoli. Amongst others, Edison Denisov, Alexander Raskatov, Vladimir Tarnopolsky, Gerard McBurney, Simon Rowland-Jones and Alexander Knaifel have dedicated their works to her.

Wilson is also active as a musicologist, having written books on Shostakovich, Rostropovich and Jacqueline du Pré amongst others. She has recently completed a biography on the pianist Maria Yudina to be published this year by Yale University Press. She has been active giving lectures and seminars throughout Europe, the USA and Japan, where she has talked on various aspects of Shostakovich‘s music, on Benjamin Britten, the Italian avant-garde, Alfred Schnittke and contemporary Russian composers. She has also devoted illustrated lectures to Rostropovich and interpretation of cello music.

For the last 30 years, she has lived in Italy, near Torino where she was a founder member of Xenia Ensemble, while continuing her work as performer, teacher, consultant and writer on music.


The lecture is open to all those interested. The lecture will be in English, with simultaneous interpretation into Estonian.


Attendance with the Arvo Pärt Centre's visitor ticket.


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