The international success of Paganini and Richter bears a striking resemblance more than a hundred years later.
Paganini, already known and admired in Italy, crossed the Alps at the age of 45 and left Europe astonished.
Richter, already known and admired in the Eastern Bloc, crossed the Iron Curtain at the age of 45 and left the West stunned.
The difference was that Paganini only performed music by himself and Richter only music by others.
In Paganini's obituary, Liszt had said that anyone who wanted to succeed him should have been less selfish.
Since then the figure of the composer-performer, not disappearing at all, had become second-rate, and the great concert players had become interpreters.
The Richter that the West knew from 1960 onwards had a repertoire ranging from Bach to Shostakovic which included both famous and very little known music, but, above all, rendered with an originality of reading that enchanted the audience and left many critics doubtful. The public paid attention to pleasure, the critics to legitimacy, and hence the diversity of evaluation.
Of course, no one could question the legitimacy, accompanied by pleasure, of Richter's interpretations of Prokofiev's music: Prokofiev had entrusted Richter with the first performance of Sonata N. 7 and composed Sonata N. 9 for him!
But the interpretation of Beethoven's Sonata Op. 57 “Appassionata” was so out of the ordinary as to cause scandal. Richter didn't just walk the beaten paths in a bizarre way: he also rediscovered old tracks almost cancelled by brambles.
How long has it been since a great pianist hadn't listened to Weber's Sonata N. 3? The nineteenth century had not esteemed it as much as the Sonata N. 2 and had only saved the ending. The twentieth century had completely erased it. Was that a piano sonata? No, it was an opera scene; one could have rewritten it for orchestra and added the words.
But Richter, who had begun his career as a substitute teacher at the Odessa Opera, took it back and performed it in such a way that those who did not want to block their ears say: "Wow ...!".
Very personal in his repertoire choices, very personal in his interpretation, Richter was also very personal in his technique: he made his shoulders work madly, which traditionally remained relaxed, he attacked the keys even with forward movements that teachers strongly advise against, his gestures were that of a spirited person.
Richter later moderated his approach to the keyboard and even censored some of his past interpreting attitudes.
But in history he remains like an hurricane that in the Sixties overwhelmed all the rules of good manners.
In an era of legitimism, Richter re-evaluated the pleasure - not to mention the creative will - of the individual.