Playing with Fire The Story of Maria Yudina, Pianist in Stalin's Russia Elizabeth Wilson

Publication date:
08 Feb 2022
Yale University Press
352 pages: 235 x 156mm
16 color illus.

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The first full biography of the fearless and brilliant Maria Yudina, a legendary pianist who was central to Russian intellectual life

Maria Yudina was no ordinary musician. An incredibly popular pianist, she lived on the fringes of Soviet society and had close friendships with such towering figures as Boris Pasternak, Pavel Florensky, and Mikhail Bakhtin. Legend has it that she was Stalin’s favorite pianist.
Yudina was at the height of her fame during WWII, broadcasting almost daily on the radio, playing concerts for the wounded and troops in hospitals and on submarines, and performing for the inhabitants of besieged Leningrad. By the last years of her life, she had been dismissed for ideological reasons from the three institutions where she taught. And yet according to Shostakovich, Yudina remained “a special case. . . . The ocean was only knee-deep for her.”

In this engaging biography, Elizabeth Wilson sets Yudina’s extraordinary life within the context of her times, where her musical career is measured against the intense intellectual and religious ferment of the post-revolutionary period and the ensuing years of Soviet repression.

Elizabeth Wilson is a performer, teacher, and writer. She studied cello at the Moscow Conservatoire with Mstislav Rostropovich and is the author of biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich, Jacqueline du Pre, and Mstislav Rostropovich.