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Mstislav Rostropovich

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Mstislav Rostropovich

Mstislav Rostropovich
Born Mstislav Leopoldovich "Slava" Rostropovich
(1927-03-27)27 March 1927
Baku, Transcaucasian SSR, Soviet Union
Died 27 April 2007(2007-04-27) (aged 80)
Moscow, Russia
Occupation cellist, conductor

Mstislav Leopoldovich "Slava" Rostropovich, KBE (Russian: Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич, Mstislav Leopol'dovič Rostropovič, pronounced ; March 27, 1927 – April 27, 2007), was a Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor. He is considered to be one of the greatest cellists ever to have lived. In addition to his interpretations and technique, he was well known for both inspiring and commissioning new works, which enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since. He gave the premieres of over 100 pieces,[1] forming long-standing friendships and artistic partnerships with composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Henri Dutilleux, Witold Lutosławski, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Norbert Moret, Andreas Makris and Benjamin Britten.

Rostropovich was internationally recognized as a staunch advocate of human rights, and was awarded the 1974 Award of the International League of Human Rights. He was married to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and had two daughters, Olga and Elena Rostropovich.


  • Early years 1
  • First concerts 2
  • Proms on August 21, 1968 3
  • Exile 4
  • Further career 5
  • Later life 6
  • Stature 7
  • Awards and recognition 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Early years

Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, to parents who had moved from Orenburg.[2] to a Polish-German-Lithuanian-Russian family.[3] Mstislav's father, Leopold Vitoldovich Rostropovich, was a cellist born in Voronezh to a composer of Polish noble descent Witold Rostropovich and Matilda Rostropovich, née Pule. The Polish part of his family bore the Bogorya coat of arms, which was located at the family palace in Skotniki, Masovian Voivodeship. Mstislav's mother was a Russian pianist from Orenburg, Sofiya Nikolaevna Fedotova-Rostropovich.[4]

Mstislav Rostropovich grew up in Baku and spent his youth there. During World War II his family moved back to Orenburg and then in 1943 to Moscow.[5]

At the age of four, Rostropovich learned the piano with his mother, Sofiya Nikolaevna Fedotova, a talented pianist. He began the cello at the age of 10 with his father, who was a renowned cellist and former student of Pablo Casals.[6]

In 1943, at the age of 16, he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied cello, piano, conducting and composition. His teachers included Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1945 he came to prominence as a cellist when he won the gold medal in the Soviet Union's first ever competition for young musicians.[6] He graduated from the Conservatory in 1948, and became professor of cello there in 1956.

First concerts

Rostropovich gave his first cello concert in 1942. He won first prize at the international Music Awards of Prague and Budapest in 1947, 1949 and 1950. In 1950, at the age of 23 he was awarded what was then considered the highest distinction in the Soviet Union, the Stalin Prize.[7] At that time, Rostropovich was already well known in his country and while actively pursuing his solo career, he taught at the Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) Conservatory and the Moscow Conservatory. In 1955, he married Galina Vishnevskaya, a leading soprano at the Bolshoi Theatre.[8]

Rostropovich had working relationships with Soviet composers of the era. In 1949 Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119, for the 22-year-old Rostropovich, who gave the first performance in 1950, with Sviatoslav Richter. Prokofiev also dedicated his Symphony-Concerto for cello to him; this was premiered in 1952. Rostropovich and Dmitry Kabalevsky completed Prokofiev's Cello Concertino after the composer's death. Dmitri Shostakovich wrote both his first and second cello concertos for Rostropovich, who also gave their first performances.

Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten in 1964

His international career started in 1963 in the Conservatoire of Liège (with Kirill Kondrashin) and in 1964 in West Germany.

Rostropovich went on several tours in Western Europe and met several composers, including Benjamin Britten, who dedicated his Cello Sonata, three Solo Suites, and his Cello Symphony to Rostropovich. Rostropovich gave their first performances, and the two had an obviously special affinity - Rostropovich's family described him as "always smiling" when discussing "Ben", and on his death bed he was said to have expressed no fear as he and Britten would, he believed, be reunited in Heaven.[9] Britten was also renowned as a piano accompanist and together they recorded, among other works, Schubert's Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor D.821. His daughter claimed that this recording moved her father to tears of joy even on his deathbed.

Rostropovich also had long-standing artistic partnership with Henri Dutilleux (Tout un monde lointain... for cello and orchestra, Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher for solo cello), Witold Lutosławski (cello concerto, Sacher-Variation for solo cello), Krzysztof Penderecki (cello concerto n°2, Largo for cello and orchestra, Per Slava for solo cello, sextet for piano, clarinet, horn, violin, viola and cello), Luciano Berio (Ritorno degli snovidenia for cello and thirty instruments, Les mots sont allés... for solo cello) as well as Olivier Messiaen (Concert à quatre for piano, cello, oboe, flute and orchestra).

Rostropovich took private lessons in conducting with

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Richard Goode and Richard Stoltzman
Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance
Succeeded by
Juilliard String Quartet
Preceded by
Ray Charles and Ravi Shankar
Polar Music Prize
Succeeded by
Pierre Boulez and Joni Mitchell
  • Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation homepage
  • Home-museum of Leopold and Mstislav Rostropovich
  • Mstislav Rostropovich - Daily Telegraph obituary
  • Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist, Conductor, Humanitarian Cellist Arash Amini shares his personal experiences with Slava, a feature from the Bloomingdale School of Music (October 2007)
  • Why the cello is a hero, interview with the Daily Telegraph
  • Interview by Tim Janof
  • Famous People: Then and Now article and interview at Azerbaijan International (Winter 1999)
  • Intellectual Responsibility. When Silence is Not Golden: Conversations with Mstislav Rostropovich, another Azerbaijan International interview (Summer 2005)
  • Hearing Mstislav Rostropovich survey of Rostropovich recordings, by Jens F. Laurson (WETA, May 4, 2007)
  • 1987 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients
  • The first Prague Spring International Cello Competition in 1950 in photographs, documents and reminiscences
  • National Symphony Orchestra Pays Homage to Rostropovich, WQXR Live Broadcast, Spring for Music Festival, Carnegie Hall, New York, New York (May 11, 2013)

External links

  • Wilson, Elizabeth. Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist, Teacher, Legend London: Faber & Faber, 2007. ISBN 978-0-571-22051-9
  • Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya. Russia, Music, and Liberty. Conversations with Claude Samuel, Amadeus Press, Portland (1995), ISBN 0-931340-76-4
  • Rostrospektive. Zum Leben und Werk von Mstislaw Rostropowitsch. On the Life and Achievement of Mstislav Rostropovich, Alexander Ivashkin and Josef Oehrlein, Internationale Kammermusik-Akademie Kronberg, Schweinfurt: Maier (1997), ISBN 3-926300-30-2
  • Inside the Recording Studio. Working with Callas, Rostropovich, Domingo, and the Classical Elite, Peter Andry, with Robin Stringer and Tony Locantro, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham MD (2008). ISBN 978-0-8108-6026-1
  • "Mstislav Rostropovich : Conductor, Pianist and Outstanding Cellist of the Age for whom Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten Composed (obituary)". London:  
  • Reynolds, Nigel (2007-04-28). "Famed Russian Cellist Loses Cancer Battle". London:  

Further reading

  1. ^ a b Olga Sobolevskaya (27 April 2007). "Mstislav Rostropovich: musician of genius, man of honor". RIA Novosti. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  2. ^ Valentin Shutilova (16 May 2007). Азиопа. Часть вторая. Дом - музей семьи Ростроповичей в Оренбурге (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  4. ^ "Софья Николаевна Федотова-Ростропович". 
  5. ^ "Mstislav Rostropovich: Obituary". The Times (London). 28 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-04. 
  6. ^ a b "Mstislav Rostropovich biography". Sony Classical. Archived from the original on February 6, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  7. ^ a b "Mirė maestro M.Rostropovičius" (in Lithuanian). Lietuvos rytas. 28 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  8. ^ "Biography of Mstislav Rostropovitch". UNESCO. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Wilson: p. 34
  11. ^ Wilson: p. 188
  12. ^ Wilson: pp. 287-89.
  13. ^ "For One Night Only - The Prom of Peace". BBC Radio 4. 1 September 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  14. ^ Wilson: pp. 292-93
  15. ^ Wilson: p. 45
  16. ^ Wilson: p. 320
  17. ^ Wilson: p. 329
  18. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (27 April 2007). "National Symphony Orchestra". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  19. ^ , UndatedBritten-Pears FoundationRostropovich remembered.Retrieved on 2007-07-31.
  20. ^ a b "Russian maestro Rostropovich dies". BBC News. 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  21. ^ Wilson: p. 345
  22. ^ Steven Erlanger (September 27, 1993). "Isolated Foes of Yeltsin Are Sad but Still Defiant". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-29. 
  23. ^ "UNESCO Celebrity Advocates: Mstislav Rostropovitch". UNESCO. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  24. ^ Gulnar Aydamirova (Summer 2003). "Rostropovich The Home Museum". Azerbaijan International. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  25. ^, 17 September 2007.
  26. ^
  27. ^ Alan Kozinn (April 27, 2007). "Mstislav Rostropovich, Cellist and Conductor, Dies". New York Times. 
  28. ^ "Russian President Marks World-renowned Musician's 80th Birthday". VOA News. 27 March 2007. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  29. ^ "Russian Conductor, Composer, Cellist Rostropovich Dies". VOA News. 27 April 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-11-19. Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  30. ^ "'"Russian cellist Rostropovish 'seriously ill. Contactmusic. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  31. ^ "Russian Musician Rostropovich Honored Before Burial". VOA News. 28 April 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-11-19. Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  32. ^ "Russian farewell to Rostropovich". BBC News. 29 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  33. ^ Julian Lloyd Webber (28 April 2007). "The greatest cellist of all time". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  34. ^ "BACH.Bogen". Atelier BACH.Bogen. 2001-10-06. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  35. ^ "Presentation of the BACH.Bogen®". 2001-10-06. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  36. ^ "Rostropovich statue set to be unveiled in Moscow for cellist's 85th anniversary". The Strad. 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2015-07-04. 
  37. ^ "Putin Praises Cellist Rostropovich at Monument Opening". The Moscow Times. 2012-03-30. Retrieved 2015-07-04. 
  38. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1447. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  39. ^ "M. L. Rostropoviçin "İstiqlal"ordeni ilə təltif edilməsi haqqında AZƏRBAYCAN RESPUBLİKASI PREZİDENTİNİN FƏRMANI" [Order of the President of Azerbaijan Republic on awarding M. L. Rostropovich with Istiglal Order of Azerbaijan Republic]. Retrieved 2011-01-20. 
  40. ^ "ONORIFICENZE: parametri di ricerca" (PDF) (in Italian). Italian Presidency. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  41. ^ Sovereign Ordonnance n° 14.274 of 18 Nov. 1999 : promotions or nominations
  42. ^ Leading clarinetist to receive Sanford Medal
  43. ^ "Rostropovich:The Honors & Awards". Retrieved 13 September 2009. 
  44. ^ "Death of master Russian cellist and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador mourned". 27 April 2007. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  45. ^


Other awards
Russian Federation and USSR

Rostropovich received about 50 awards during his life, including:

Awards and recognition

Between 1997 and 2001 he was intimately involved in the development and testing of the BACH.Bow,[34] a curved bow designed by the cellist Michael Bach. In 2001 he invited Michael Bach for a presentation of his BACH.Bow to Paris (7ème Concours de violoncelle Rostropovitch).[35] In July 2011, the city of Moscow announced plans to erect a statue of Rostropovich in a central square,[36] and the statue was unveiled in March 2012.[37]

Rostropovich with BACH.Bow in 1999

Rostropovich is also well known for his interpretations of standard repertoire works, including Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor and Haydn's cello concerti in C and D, Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto and the two cello concerti of Shostakovich.

Rostropovich either commissioned or was the recipient of compositions by many composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Olivier Messiaen, André Jolivet, Witold Lutosławski, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Leonard Bernstein, Alfred Schnittke, Aram Khachaturian, Ástor Piazzolla, Andreas Makris, Sofia Gubaidulina, Arthur Bliss, Colin Matthews and Lopes Graça. His commissions of new works enlarged the cello repertoire more than any previous cellist: he gave the premiere of 117 compositions.[1]

Rostropovich was a huge influence on the younger generation of cellists. Many have openly acknowledged their debt to his example. In the Daily Telegraph, Julian Lloyd Webber called him "probably the greatest cellist of all time."[33]


On April 28, Rostropovich's body lay in an open coffin at the Moscow Conservatory,[31] where he once studied as a teenager, and was then moved to the Church of Christ the Saviour. Thousands of mourners, including Putin, bade farewell. Spain's Queen Sofia, French first lady Bernadette Chirac and President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan, where Rostropovich was born, as well as Naina Yeltsina, the widow of Boris Yeltsin, were among those in attendance at the funeral on April 29. Rostropovich was then buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, the same cemetery where his friend Boris Yeltsin had been buried four days earlier.[32]

He re-entered the Blokhin Russian Cancer Research Center on April 7, 2007, where he was treated for intestinal cancer. He died on April 27.[20][29][30]

Though Rostropovich's last home was in Paris, he maintained residences in Moscow, St. Petersburg, London, Lausanne, and Jordanville, New York. Rostropovich was admitted to a Paris hospital at the end of January 2007, but then decided to fly to Moscow, where he had been receiving care.[27] On February 6, 2007 the 79-year-old Rostropovich was admitted to a hospital in Moscow. "He is just feeling unwell", Natalya Dolezhale, Rostropovich's secretary in Moscow, said. Asked if there was serious cause for concern about his health she said: "No, right now there is no cause whatsoever." She refused to specify the nature of his illness. The Kremlin said that President Putin had visited the musician on Monday in the hospital, which prompted speculation that he was in a serious condition. Dolezhale said the visit was to discuss arrangements for marking Rostropovich's 80th birthday. On March 27, 2007, Putin issued a statement praising Rostropovich.[28]

Rostropovich's health declined in 2006, with the Chicago Tribune reporting rumours of unspecified surgery in Geneva and later treatment for what was reported as an aggravated ulcer. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Rostropovich to discuss details of a celebration the Kremlin was planning for March 27, 2007, Rostropovich's 80th birthday. Rostropovich attended the celebration but was reportedly in frail health.

Later life

His instruments included the 1711 Duport Stradivarius, a Storioni on which he made most of his recordings and a Peter Guarneri of Venice.

In 2006, he was featured in Alexander Sokurov's documentary Elegy of a life: Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya.[26]

Together they formed a valuable art collection. In September 2007, when it was slated to be sold at auction by Sotheby's in London and dispersed, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov stepped forward and negotiated the purchase of all 450 lots in order to keep the collection together and bring it to Russia as a memorial to the great cellist's memory. Christie's reported that the buyer paid a "substantially higher" sum than the £20 million pre-sale estimate[25]

. Azerbaijan State Conservatory The couple visited Azerbaijan occasionally. Rostropovich also presented cello master classes at the [24] Rostropovich and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, founded the

Rostropovich received many international awards, including the French Legion of Honor and honorary doctorates from many international universities. He was an activist, fighting for freedom of expression in art and politics. An ambassador for the UNESCO, he supported many educational and cultural projects.[23] Rostropovich performed several times in Madrid and was a close friend of Queen Sofía of Spain.

In 1993, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Kronberg Academy and was a patron until his death. He commissioned Rodion Shchedrin to compose the opera Lolita and conducted its premiere in 1994 at the Royal Swedish Opera.

In modern Russia, Rostropovich was welcomed by high officials. Besides having supported Yeltsin during the 1993 constitutional crisis (he also conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in Red Square at the height of the crackdown),[22] he was also on friendly terms with Vladimir Putin.

When, in August 1991, news footage was broadcast of tanks in the streets of Moscow, Rostropovich responded with a characteristically brave, impetuous and patriotic gesture: he bought a plane ticket to Japan on a flight that stopped at Moscow, talked his way out of the airport and went to join Boris Yeltsin in the hope that his fame might make some difference to the chance of tanks moving in.[21]

His impromptu performance during the fall of the Berlin Wall as events unfolded was reported throughout the world.[20] His Soviet citizenship was restored in 1990.

Memorial at Kronberg

From 1977 until 1994, he was musical director and conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, while still performing with some of the most famous musicians such as Martha Argerich, Sviatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz.[18] He was also the director and founder of the Mstislav Rostropovich Baku International Festival and was a regular performer at the Aldeburgh Festival in the UK.[19]

Cello festival at Kronberg Academy
Mstislav Rostropovich and his fans in Moscow
Mstislav Rostropovich, chief conductor of U.S. National Symphony Orchestra, greets the audience in Bolshoi Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, 13 February 1990
Mstislav Rostropovich, 18 September 1959
Galina Vishnevskaya and Mstislav Rostropovich with their daughters at home, 1 February 1959
Mstislav Rostropovich with wife Galina Vishnevskaya in 1965

Further career

Rostropovich left the Soviet Union in 1974 with his wife and children and settled in the United States. He was banned from several musical ensembles in his homeland, and his Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1978 because of his public opposition to the Soviet Union's restriction of cultural freedom. He would not return to the Soviet Union until 1990.[7]

Rostropovich fought for art without borders, freedom of speech, and democratic values, resulting in harassment from the Soviet regime. An early example was in 1948, when he was a student at the Moscow Conservatory. In response to the 10 February 1948 decree on so-called 'formalist' composers, his teacher Dmitri Shostakovich was dismissed from his professorships in Leningrad and Moscow; the 21-year-old Rostropovich quit the conservatory, dropping out in protest.[15] In 1970, Rostropovich sheltered Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who otherwise would have had nowhere to go, in his own home. His friendship with Solzhenitsyn and his support for dissidents led to official disgrace in the early 1970s. As a result, Rostropovich was restricted from foreign touring,[16] as was his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and his appearances performing in Moscow were curtailed, as increasingly were his appearances in such major cities as Leningrad and Kiev.[17]

Rostropovich playing the Duport Stradivarius at the White House in 1978.


As an encore he played the sarabande No. 4 from the Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 by Johann Sebastian Bach, a piece that he said he liked to offer to those who were sad.

Rostropovich played at The Proms on the night of August 21, 1968. He played with the Soviet State Symphony Orchestra- it was the orchestra's debut performance at the Proms. The programme featured Czech composer Antonín Dvořák's Cello Concerto and was the same day that Russians invaded Czechoslovakia to put an end to Alexander Dubček's Prague Spring.[13] After the performance, which had been preceded by heckling and demonstrations, the orchestra and soloist were cheered by the Proms audience.[14] Rostropovich stood and held aloft the conductor's score of the Dvořák as a gesture of solidarity for the composer's homeland and the city of Prague, a place he loved.

Proms on August 21, 1968

[12] at the Bolshoi, thus letting forth his passion for both the role of conductor and the opera.Eugene Onegin's opera Tchaikovsky, he conducted Mikhail Chulaki In 1967, at the invitation of the Bolshoi Theatre's director [11]

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