|Yudina’s fellow friend Kurt Sanderling was quite right saying that she will come into the history not as a pianist but as a significant personality of the twentieth century.
Indeed, the personality of Maria Veniaminovna Yudina doesn’t fit any frames. She was more than a musician
In her piano playing she always went beyond the ordinary expression exploring all available piano resources.
Born on September 9, 1899 in the small Russian city of Nevel into a Jewish family, Maria Yudina was one of five children. She entered the St.Petersburg Conservatoire in 1913 where she studied with the legendary Anna Essipova and also with her pupil Vladimir Drozdov.
Following the events of two Russian revolutions in 1917, she went back to her native town where she spent two years giving recitals and studying philosophy with her friends philosophers Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Pumpiansky. In 1919, at the time when the Bolsheviks proclaimed Russia an atheistic state and started destroying churches and shooting priests, Yudina decided to be baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. Since this time she accepted life as a service to her neighbors, and was always remained faithful to the principles of Christianity, which was not easy during the Communist regime. Her belief found a direct reflection in her playing and her approach to music. She will continue playing Bach even when it would be forbidden and dismissed as a “clerical” music.
In 1920 she entered the class of Prof. Leonid Nikolayev (a piano teacher of Shostakovich and Sofronitsky), also studying organ, composition and counterpoint. At the same time she attends lectures on literature at the Petrograd University, befriending with famous philosopher Lev Karsavin.
She shared her performance at the graduation exam with Sofronitsky playing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata,Liszt’s Sonata in B minor and both volumes of Bach’s WTC on jury’s choice. At the graduation act it’s announced that she was invited to teach at the conservatoire, where two years later she was awarded professorship.
During the 1920s extensive cultural development, Yudina became obsessed with the contemporary music. Her playing was admired by Paul Hindemith and Otto Klemperer, who performed in Leningrad during that time. For some time Yudina was a vice president of the Association of Contemporary Music in Leningrad.
In 1930 criticized for her religious attitudes, she was kicked out of the Leningrad Conservatoire. Without any possibilities to perform and to acquire any kind of job, she turns her activities into defending her friends who fell the victims of the Stalin reprisals.
In 1931 she accepts the invitation teach at the postgraduation course at the conservatoire in Tbilisi, Georgia.
In 1933 she returns back to Moscow with no place to stay and to practice. Without any opportunity to perform she lives along with her brother in a cellar in Moscow. Taking her time, she starts attending the Moscow Institute of Architecture.
In November 1933 she gives the Soviet premiere performance of Prokofiev’s Second Conserto with Jascha Horenstein in Kiev.
In 1934 she makes joint appearances with Dimitri Mitropoulos and Hermann Scherchen playing Mozarts’ and Beethoven’s concertos.
In 1936 thanks to her friends’ efforts she was invited to teach at the Moscow Conservatoire. There she combines two fields: piano and vocal coach. In 1939 she appears as a director and accompanist for the conservatoire production of Taneyev’s opera cycle Oresteya.
During the time of World War II she remains in Moscow performing on Moscow Radio for the local and foreign broadcast, expressing the power of the Russian spirit in struggle with the Nazis to the whole world. During one of such broadcasts Josef Stalin heard her performance of Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 and immediately ordered the recording, awarding Yudina with a money prize. She gave the money to the church she attended and wrote a letter to the dictator, in which she asked promised to pray for him asking God to forgive his sins before the nation and the country with a request to help her persecuted friends. Later when Stalin was found dead in his room, there was Yudina’s record on his record player… However, Yudina was never favored by the Communist officials and had to live a hard life. In 1943 she goes to play in besieged Leningrad to support her friends.
In 1944 she became a professor at the newly founded Gnessins Institute in Moscow, where she taught piano and later chamber ensemble and vocal coach for sixteen years.
In 1948 she openly supports Shostakovich during his persecution. In 1951 as a result of Stalin’s antisemitic campaign she has to quit from teaching at the Moscow Conservatoire.
In 1953 disturbed she had to escape from her apartment to live at the countryside
During the persecution of her friend, Russian writer Boris Pasternak she showed him an open support by reciting his poetry from the stage instead of playing encores.
During the Khruschev “thaw” her activities are again directed towards the promotion of the new Western music, such as Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Boulez, and many others. She established personal contacts with the main representatives of the Western music, such as Bernstein, Boulez, Xenakis, Adorno, Messien, Nono and Stockhausen.
As a result of her religious attitude and activities in the field of contemporary music she was thrown out of the Gnessins Institute in 1960 and in July 1961 was almost forbidden to perform after combining the reciting of Pastrnak’s poetry in concert wchih featured works by Webern and Andrei Volkonsky.
During Stravinsky’s visit to Moscow in 1962 she arranged the exhibition devoted to him and performed in concerts in his presence.
In 1966 she gave a cycle of lectures on Romanticism at the Moscow Conservatoire, playing Beethoven, Chopin and Prokofiev.
Maria Veniaminovna Yudina passed away in Moscow on November 19, 1970, her funerals turning into a global expression of nation’s love towards the great pianist.