The quoted story below is here just because I like it. If that’s not enough, there is an interesting subtext of interpretation, which I think is relevant to issues in photography — about the ways in which, and/or the degree to which the photographer can/does/should interpret the ‘score’ as ‘written’ by the camera.
It’s from the Introduction to the book Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations by Bruno Monsaingeon (2001) The author, a documentary filmmaker and writer, had, for years been hoping to make a film about the elusive Richter:
… in 1981, a curious thing happened. For a whole month I had effectively been living in another world. Glenn Gould and I were about to complete the editing of our film on the Goldberg Variations in an underground studio somewhere outside Toronto. In the state of intense excitement in which we found ourselves, it was impossible to tear ourselves away from a project that we had come to regard as our child. There was always a comma to be inserted, a subtle point to be honed, an edit that needed attention. When the editing process was finished, we spent a whole night watching the film, but this time as spectators. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, Glenn turned to me: ‘You know Richter. Are you in touch with him?’
‘Er … ‘
‘A musician like him, such a tremendous pianist and he doesn’t know how to make a recording. He has no recording philosophy and allows records to be released that are a betrayal of his abilities and in no way represent him. He really must learn the specific art of recording. I’d like to make a recording with him in which I’d be his producer.’
‘Glenn, are you serious?’
‘I’m damned serious. He could play whatever repertory he liked, even Rachmaninov, on my own piano if he wanted. Put it to him.’
Three weeks later, at the Fêtes Musicales de Touraine, I raised the matter with Richter, first of all explaining that I had just finished a film about the Goldberg Variations with Glenn Gould.
‘Did he play the repeats?’
‘Yes, the first repeats in the canonic variations.’
‘What! Not all of them? But I spoke to him about it in Moscow in 1957, after his concert. Such a musician, such a tremendous pianist … The work is too complicated; without the repeats no one can follow it. And in any case, that’s how it’s written.’ [I hope you know what ‘repeats’ are in classical music; if not, just know that the composer’s wish for repeats are sometimes (often) ignored in performance.]
‘But, Maestro, that’s not what’s at issue. Don’t you think his proposal is worth considering?’
‘Where and when?’
‘In America, of course.’
‘I never go to America.’ He then reflected for a moment, before adding: ‘Tell Glenn Gould that I accept, but on condition that he agrees to give a recital at my festival in Tours.’
He said this with a smile in his voice, knowing perfectly well that Gould refused to perform in public. And that was the end of the matter.
Then in 1995, for some reason, Richter had is housekeeper/secretary notify Monsaingeon that he wanted him to do his biography: But then Richter wouldn’t agree to see Monsaingeon (in his hotel in France).
… For years I had been trying to make contact with Richter, and now here I was in the entrance hall of his hotel, and he was refusing to see me while begging me to write about him for reasons that I did not really understand.
Monsaingeon then sends Richter a long handwritten letter:
… It so happened that since perestroika Proust’s works had started to appear in Russian, with the result that on each of my visits to Moscow I had gradually been able to acquire copies of all the volumes of A la recherche du temps perdu, with the exception of the final part, Le temps retrouvé, which had not yet appeared and, indeed, has still not appeared. I recalled the episode with Berma, the actress modelled on Rachel or Sarah Bernhardt, in which Proust addressed the whole problem of interpretation: by playing Phèdre, did Berma make a new masterpiece out of an existing masterpiece, a masterpiece of interpretation? I quoted this episode by way of coda, adding: ‘What does Maestro think? In other words, can an interpreter be a genius? Can interpretation be seen as an act of genius?’ I faxed my twelve pages to Richter at his hotel.
The same morning I was woken by a phone call from [secretary/housekeeper] Milena: ‘Maestro wants to see you at once.’
… I found myself a few hours later in the salon of the Maestro’s modest apartment at the Hôtel Majestic. On the music stand of his digital piano, a Yamaha Clavinova, there was a sheet of paper on which he had written some instructions, a sort of aide-mémoire intended for his own private use. (In spite of the totally unpredictable nature of the life that he had chosen to lead, he was always extremely meticulous and well ordered.) While I was waiting, I read what he had written: ‘Clean your teeth properly morning and night, read a little Proust or Thomas Mann every day . . . ‘
During the conversation with the Maestro that followed, Monsaingeon wondered to himself:
… What had inspired me to quote the passage about Berma? This was a sore point with Richter, raising what was a key question for him, the very real problem of interpretation. What is an interpreter? What can he add to an existing work? Or, rather, should he not add anything at all? In Richter’s eyes, the interpreter did not exist or rather he was merely a mirror that reflected the score, the fanatically exact and scrupulous reader of the score. It was a fanciful vision, of course, as the force of Richter’s personality was such that he was one of the few pianists whom one could identify from the very first note. Gould and Richter.
To throw in a bit that’s more directly tied to photography (film in this case):
… While [tape] recording our conversations, I regretted the absence of a camera capable of capturing a face of such overwhelming sadness but that was also often comical and, above all, infinitely expressive. It was a thousand pities that, at least for the moment, the gentleness of his voice and the originality of what he had to say were immortalized only in sound. Moreover, it was often not the actual content of what he was saying that was so fascinating, but the poetry of his silences or the gestures that accompanied them. Only a camera could have captured these.