Mstislav Rostropovich (1927 – 2007)
Russian cellist, pianist, composer and conductor.
Widely considered to be the world's greatest cellist for much of his lifetime, he
recorded virtually an entire repertoire and inspired many of the era's finest
composers to create works especially for him.
It has often been said that the cello is the nearest instrument to the human voice
and he made the cello 'speak' like no other.
The secret lay not only in his phrasing but also in his sound. Rostropovich
enchanted his audience through his cello and its sound was filled with the breath
He was Music Director of the Washington, DC, National Symphony Orchestra for
17 seasons and enjoyed special relationships as conductor with such widely
varied orchestras as the London Symphony Orchestra, the New Japan
Philharmonic in Tokyo and the Vienna Philharmonic.
Rostropovich's compositions include two piano concertos, several piano pieces
and a string quartet.
Standing up for freedom
Mstislav Rostropovich was recognized internationally not only as a consummate
musician but as an outspoken defender of human rights.
His tireless work as a defender of human rights included his courageous
defense of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and his trip to Moscow in August 1991,
unheralded, visa-less and at great risk to his life and freedom, to join those in
the Russian White House resisting the attempted coup.
For his support of the democratic forces during the aborted coup he was
presented with the State Prize of Russia.
He received numerous awards for his efforts on behalf of human rights, among
them the 1974 Annual Award of the International League of Human Rights.
Cello concerto in B minor Op.104 - Dvorak
Maestro Rostropovich held over 40 honorary degrees and 25 different nations
lavished more than 90 major awards upon him, including:
Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Commander of the Legion of Honor of France.
Membership in the Academy of Arts of the French Institute, often called the
The Japan Art Association's Imperial Premium
The Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA)
The Kennedy Center Honors of 1992.
Prior to leaving the USSR on an exit visa, he had received:
The Stalin Prize
The Lenin Prize, the nation's highest honor.
People's Artist of the USSR award.
Mstislav Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1927.
His father, Leopold, was a Pablo Casals pupil and a distinguished international
cellist, who taught at the Gnesin Institute, Moscow.
Mstislav first studied the piano with his mother, and only later, at the age of 10,
the cello with his father.
As a child, he also began to experiment with composition.
During the war the family moved to Orenburg, where Rostropovich completed
his formal education and gave his first public performances, duetting with his
sister, making local tours with the band of Leningrad’s relocated Small Opera
At the age of 13, he was invited to play the Saint-Saëns concerto with the
Ukrainian orchestra at Slavyansk.
Cello Suite No1 - Preludio - Bach
In 1943, he entered at the Moscow Conservatoire, his curriculum was dominated
by cello studies with Semyon Kosolupov, whom he later credited with having
made “a master of me with perfect command of the cello,” and composition with
Rostropovich graduated from the Conservatoire with the highest distinction.
Rostropovich’s creative as well as executants gifts had already been aired at his
father Leopold Rostropovich’s final recital, shortly before his death in 1942 at the
age of 50, in which the pianist son accompanied the cellist father in the former’s
newly composed cello concerto.
The childhood appearances had drawn attention to an exceptional talent, and in
the years after the war, he began to appear in concerts in other countries with
He won first prizes at the international music awards of Prague and Budapest in
1947, 1949 and 1950, the same year in which he was awarded the Stalin Prize.
Rostropovich was first heard regularly in the West in the 1950s, after the
improvement in cultural relations of the USSR with the western block.
Several composers wrote works for Rostropovich, beginning in the USSR with
Glière, Khachaturian, Myaskovsky and Prokofiev, whose Sinfonía concertante
Op.125 was revised in 1952 with the cellist’s collaboration and whose unfinished
Concertino Op.132 was completed by Rostropovich and Kabalevsky after the
composer’s death in 1953.
Shostakovich wrote his Cello Concerto No.1 Op.107 for him.
He studied further, with Casals, and by 1953 was lecturing at the Leningrad and
In 1955 Rostropovich married Galina Vishnevskaya, internationally recognized
as one of the world's great sopranos.
Thereafter he made frequent appearances as an excellent pianist in her recitals,
which often featured Russian song rarities little known in the West. Together
they toured the globe.
Dance of the Elves Op.39 - David Popper
Rostropovich travelled widely on concert tours, making his British début at the
Festival Hall in March 1956, and his American début at Carnegie Hall, New
York, in April the same year.
Musicians and audiences alike were quick to appreciate his exceptional mastery
of style and technique.
In 1974 he and his family were permitted a two-year stay abroad.
It was intended as a cooling-off period but because of his outspokenness he
was soon deprived of his Soviet citizenship. This he found a hard blow. He and
his family settled in the U.S.A.
Thereafter, until the collapse of the Soviet empire, he was the subject of public
indifference in official Russia, a “non-person” barely mentioned in reference
books, though the continuing object of private interest and warmth among old
Rostropovich was appointed music director of the National Symphony Orchestra
of Washington, DC, in 1977, a post he held until 1994,
Returning to Russia
In exile his international prominence as a cellist, pianist and musical
ambassador increased, as did his conducting engagements.
With the accession of Gorbachev in 1980 reconciliatory overtures were made
but declined by Rostropovich, until he decided to return to Russia in1991.
After that more cordial relations with his homeland were established and
cemented by the purchase of homes in Moscow and St Petersburg along with
the establishment of the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich foundation for sick
In addition to being the co-founder and president of the Vishnevskaya-
Rostropovich Foundation, the Maestro worked tirelessly on behalf of children’s
He served on the board of the Vaccine Fund (now part of the GAVI Alliance),
acted as Special Representative of the Joint United Nations Program on
HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and he gave numerous concerts to raise money for
charitable works on behalf of children in many countries of the world.
Clair de Lune - Debussy
Musicians, statesmen and royalty all loved Rostropovich.
When Senator Edward Kennedy heard of his troubles in the Soviet Union he
personally asked Brezhnev to intervene.
Astoundingly, Rostropovich was granted a two-year visa to “travel for artistic
“People make a big mistake to think that I am interested in politics.
I am interested in people. At first, I was a very good 'Soviet citizen.'
But when I heard of Solzhenitsyn's plight,
I went to see him and he was being treated like a dog.
I offered him refuge and that is when my troubles started.”
Maestro Rostropovich died on April 27, 2007, in Moscow.