The eminent Jewish-born, Russian pianist and pedagogue, Maria [Mariya] Yudina, took piano lessons from 1906 in Vitebsk with Frieda Teitelbaum-Levinson. Then she enrolled at the Petrograd Conservatory, where she studied piano with Anna Essipova, VIadimir Drozdov, and Leonid Nikolayev, theory with Maximilian Steinberg and J. Wihtol, and score reading with N. Tcherepnin and Emil Cooper. Her classmates included Dmitri Shostakovich and Vladimir Sofronitsky. She made her first public appearance in 1913, and had further studies with Tcherepnin and Blumenfeld, among others.
In 1921 Maria Yudina joined the piano faculty of the Petrograd Conservatory, holding this position until 1930. From 1932 to 1934 she taught at the Tiflis Conservatory. From 1936 to 1951 she was a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, and from 1944 to 1960 taught piano and chamber music performance at the Gnessin Institute in Moscow. Among her students was Andrei Balanchivadze.
Maria Yudina began her career as a pianist in 1921 (official debut in 1923). She had contact with the West-European music scene through Otto Klemperer and Paul Hindemith. From 1930, she performed extensively in the Soviet Union, in addition to teaching in St Petersburg and, later, at the Moscow Conservatory. Yudina has the distinction of being Stalin's favourite pianist. Once, Stalin heard her in a radio broadcast of Mozart's A major Concerto, K. 488, and ordered an immediate recording that very evening. Legend has it that on a night, Stalin impulsively wanted to hear the Mozart F major concerto. Stalin's servants went downtown, woke up Yudina, drove her to a recording studio where a small orchestra had quickly been assembled, and made her record the concerto in the middle of the night, then drove back to the palace to hand the recording over to Stalin. It is said that he broke out in tears after hearing only the first notes of Yudina's playing. Despite the recognition from the big leader, the pianist remained an uncompromising critic of the Soviet regime until the end of her days, which resulted in her being banned from teaching or even appearing on stage more than once.
In 1950, Maria Yudina took part in Bachfest Leipzig, and in 1954 toured Poland. After being dismissed from the Moscow Conservatory, she continued her teaching activities in the Soviet capital at the Gnessin Institute; she also continued to give recitals, whose programmes were not infrequently punctuated by her literary recitations. When Igor Stravinsky returned for the first time to Russia in 1962, she took part in the gala concert in honour of his 80th birthday. She gave her farewell concert in Moscow in May 1969.
Maria Yudina's playing is distinguished by its virtuosity, spirituality, masculine strength and creative intellect. However, her playing was also very individual in style and tone. She enjoyed great renown as an intellectual musician capable of presenting the works she performed with a grand line, both didactic and inspired. But rather than accepting the traditional interpretation of classical music, she introduced a strong personal element differing from accepted norms, so that her performances of works by J.S. Bach, Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms were revelations to some listeners, and abominations to the old school of pianism. Yudina was also an ardent champion of modern music, placing on her programmes compositions by such masters of new techniques as I. Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and Béla Bartók at a time when their works were not acceptable in Russia. She also played piano pieces by Soviet composers, particularly Prokofiev and her good friend D. Shostakovich. She gave numerous concerts of chamber music. She published memoirs, and reminiscences of famous composers she had met in Russia. A volume of her articles, reminiscences, and materials was published in Moscow in 1978.