[For some background on Franz Liszt, see this first post in the series on Legendary Liszt Performers].
Maria Yudina was one of the many Soviet pianists virtually unknown in the West during her lifetime. For every great Russian pianist allowed to tour the West – Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, and Lazar Berman – there were many more who labored in obscurity. Among these were two classmates who studied at the Petrograd Conservatory while the Russian Revolution was raging in the early 1920’s. These two – Maria Yudina and Vladimir Sofronitsky – both went on to professional careers, but only in the Soviet Union. A third classmate of theirs was Dmitri Shostakovich, who of course had ahead of him an illustrious career as one of Russia’s greatest composers.
Shostakovich was in the mold of many of his fellow artists in the Soviet Union – anxious to perform or compose, hoping to be recognized for their accomplishments, yet forced to grovel before petty Communist Party apparatchiks who knew nothing of music yet had the power to make or destroy artistic careers. The logical, and seemingly only, solution for artists in Soviet Russia was to stay away from politics, and avoid the attention of the political establishment.
Maria Yudina was of a different mold. She actively courted the anger of the establishment throughout her life, and paid a heavy price for doing so. In 1922 she enrolled in religious courses at Petrograd University (religion was not yet outlawed in the country), and abandoned her Jewish religion by converting to Orthodox Christianity. This was no mere affectation or an attempt to avoid the discrimination that Jews routinely faced in Russia. Yudina was sincerely attracted to Christianity and placed greater emphasis on her spiritual life than on her musical career.