Playing with Fire
The Story of Maria Yudina, Pianist in Stalin's Russia
by Elizabeth Wilson
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 22 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 8 Feb 2022
Yale University Press, London, Yale University Press
“Playing with Fire is a ground-breaking work—a phenomenal biography of a towering human spirit of everlasting relevance.”—Norman Lebrecht, Wall Street Journal
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.
“A brilliant pianist closely connected with the leading lights of 20th-century Russian music, literature and philosophy, Maria Yudina was a seminal figure whose devout religious beliefs brought her into direct collision with the Soviet state. Elizabeth Wilson's great achievement is to have brought Yudina's extraordinary life out of the shadows. With this revelatory biography she takes us deep into the heart of Russian artistic genius at its most passionate and uncompromising.”—Rosamund Bartlett, author of Chekhov Scenes from a Life and Tolstoy: A Russian Life