The Russian pianist and teacher, Maria Grinberg [Marija I. Grinberg; Russian: Mария Gринберг], was born into a family of intelligentsia. Her father was a Hebrew scholar, and mother taught piano privately. Before the Revolution of 1917, the family was well off, which was no longer the case after the Communists seized power. Until the age of 18, Maria was taking piano lessons from Odessa's best teacher David Aisberg. Eventually she became a pupil of Felix Blumenfeld (the primary teacher of Vladimir Horowitz) and later, after his death, continued her studies with Konstantin Igumnov at Moscow Conservatory. In 1935, she won the Second Prize at the Second All-Union Pianist Competition.
A phenomenal virtuosa, Maria Grinberg had every right to become a major figure of Russian piano school. However, in 1937 both her husband and her father were arrested and executed as "enemies of the people". The pianist was fired by the state-run management and got a job as an accompanist of an amateur choreography group. During that time, she occasionally participated in concert performances playing timpani. Somehow, in a while, she was readmitted to the management as a piano soloist. She became a much-sought after pianist in Moscow, with concerts in Leningrad, Riga, Tallinn, Voronezh, Tbilisi, Baku and other cities all over the Soviet Union. At the age of 50, only after Stalin died in 1953, she was allowed to travel abroad. All in all, Grinberg went on 14 performing tours - 12 times in the Soviet bloc countries and twice in Holland where she became a nationally acclaimed figure. Critics enthusiastically compared her dazzling performances with those of Horowitz, Rubinstein, and Clara Haskil. However, the Soviet media never reprinted those laudatory reviews and pretty much ignored her successes.
Maria Grinberg was probably one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in making her own artistic career work. A tremendous talent, she is virtually unknown in the West. Only at the age of 55, she was granted her first - and last - honorary title of the Distinguished Artist of the Russian Soviet Federation. Only at 61, she was given a professorship of the Gnessin Institute of Music. But neither Moscow Conservatoire, nor the jury of the Tchaikovsky International Competition offered her a seat. When she was in her late 40s, she noticed that her vision has become significantly worse. She addressed the problem, and it turned out that she had a brain tumor. She underwent a brain surgery. A small woman by stature, she had willpower of a giant. Just like L.v. Beethoven, she too "grabbed the Fate by the throat". Within a few months, she celebrated her 50th anniversary by performing three piano concertos in one evening - Bach's f minor, L.v. Beethoven Third, and Sergei Rachmaninov's Third with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. The event was sold-out, yet no review or even a small article in the press followed.
In 1970, her personal 13-LP album set featuring all L.v. Beethoven's 32 sonatas was released. This event was without a precedent in the history of Russian pianism. This was the first time when a Russian pianist recorded the complete set of L.v. Beethoven Sonatas. The Soviet musical press uttered not a single word of this unique event. Only three months before the pianist died, in 1978, critic Yudenich called these recordings in the Sovetskaya Muzyka magazine "a true feat of art". Not a single filming of Grinberg's live performances was made for TV or the silver screen.
Maria Grinberg died in 1978 in Tallinn, some ten weeks before her 70th birthday. When her daughter Nika came to Tallinn's funeral home, the undertaker declined to take money for the last services, as he knew who the deceased lady was. Gnessin Institute's director refused to hold a mourning ceremony on the Institute's premises, and only thanks to the efforts of Deputy Minister of Culture Kukharsky, the great pianist was given her last honor in a proper way
Her sense of humor was legendary. Those who knew her recall a story. Her patronymic [the name of the father, customarily used in Russian names] was Israilyevna (that is, "daughter of Israel", the latter being the first name of her father). During the period of heightened hostilities between the Soviet Union and the State of Israel, which the Soviets always addressed as "Israeli aggressors," Maria Grinberg always introduced herself as "Maria