This video which features Sviatoslav Richter performing Frederic Chopin’s Etude in C minor Op. 10 No. 12, is noteworthy for several reasons.
Chiefly, it is an absolutely stunning performance. The Revolutionary Etude demands absolute control of the left hand, and tremendous stamina, and Richter makes it look easy.
The look of furious concentration on Richter’s face is something to behold – you get the feeling he could stare down a lion.
There is also a curious historical irony about the performance. Chopin, who spent most of his life in France, was inspired to write the Revolutionary Etude by the plight of his homeland, Poland. In the November Revolt of 1930 in Warsaw, the Poles rebelled against their overlords, Russia – which had ruled Eastern Poland since taking it from Napoleon’s forces in 1813, and formalised by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 – but they were crushed by a Russian army in September 1931. At first they had allowed Poland a fair level of autonomy, before tightening their control.
Funnily enough, in the year that this recording was made, 1968, Poland was effectively a vassal state to Russia/the USSR, which had taken Poland from Nazi German forces in 1945. It had been expected that Russia would withdraw its forces and give Poland its independence, but this was never in the Russian playbook. A Polish revolt against communist and Russian rule in 1956 had been crushed on the order of the Russian overlords, and the USSR invaded Poland’s neighbour, Czechoslovakia, in 1968, the year of this recording, to crush a revolt there, too.
Given Russia’s role in crushing the democratic and independent hopes of the Polish people, both at the time of composition and the time of the recording, Richter, as a Russian, could perhaps be accused of cultural appropriation…