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Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich, KBE (Russian: Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич, Mstislav Leopol'dovič Rostropovič, pronounced [rəstrɐˈpɔvʲɪtɕ]; March 27, 1927 – April 27, 2007), was a Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor. He is considered by many to have been the greatest cellist of the second half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest of all time. 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, forming long-standing friendships and artistic partnerships with composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Henri Dutilleux, Witold Lutoslawski, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Norbert Moret, Andreas Makris and especially 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.
Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, USSR, to parents who had moved from Orenburg. Rostropovich was of mostly ethnic Russian ancestry; his father, Leopold Vitoldovich Rostropovich, was also partly of Polish noble descent. That part of his family bore the Bogorya coat of arms, which was located at the family palace in Skotniki, Masovian Voivodeship. He 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.
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.
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 first ever Soviet Union competition for young musicians. He graduated from the Conservatory in 1948, and became professor of cello there in 1956.
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. 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.
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 Sinfonia Concertante 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.
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. 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 Lutoslawski (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 Leo Ginzburg, and first conducted in public in Gorky in November 1962, performing the four entractes from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and Shostakovich's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death with Vishnevskaya singing. In 1967, at the invitation of the Bolshoi Theatre's director Mikhail Chulaki, he conducted Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin at the Bolshoi, thus letting forth his passion for both the role of conductor and the opera.
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. After the performance, which had been preceded by heckling and demonstrations, the orchestra and soloist were cheered by the Proms audience. 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.
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 then 21-year-old Rostropovich quit the conservatory, dropping out in protest. 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, as was his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and his appearances performing in Moscow were curtailed, as increasingly was his appearances in such major cities as Leningrad and Kiev.
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.
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. He was also the director and founder of the Rostropovich Music Festival and was a regular performer at the Aldeburgh Festival in the UK.
His impromptu performance during the fall of the Berlin Wall as events unfolded was reported throughout the world. His Soviet citizenship was restored in 1990, although he and his family had already become American citizens.
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.
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), he was also on friendly terms with Vladimir Putin.
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.
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. Rostropovich performed several times in Madrid and was a close friend of Queen Sofía of Spain.
Rostropovich and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, founded the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Foundation, a publicly supported non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C., in 1991 to improve the health and future of children in the former Soviet Union. The Rostropovich Home Museum opened on March 4, 2002, in Baku. The couple visited Azerbaijan occasionally. Rostropovich also presented cello master classes at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory.
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
His instruments included the 1711 Duport Stradivarius, a Storioni on which he made most of his recordings and a Peter Guarneri of Venice.
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.
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. 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.
On April 28, Rostropovich's body lay in an open coffin at the Moscow Conservatory, 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.
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."
Rostropovich either commissioned or was the recipient of compositions by many composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Olivier Messiaen, Witold Lutosławski, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Leonard Bernstein, Alfred Schnittke, Aram Khachaturian, Ástor Piazzolla, Sofia Gubaidulina, Arthur Bliss and Lopes Graça. His commissions of new works enlarged the cello repertoire more than any previous cellist: he gave the premiere of 117 compositions.
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.
Between 1997 and 2001 he was intimately involved in the development and testing of the BACH.Bow, 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). In July 2011, the city of Moscow announced plans to erect a statue of Rostropovich in a central square.
He was also a notably generous spirit. Seiji Ozawa relates an anecdote: on hearing of the death of the baby daughter of his friend the sumo wrestler Chiyonofuji, Rostropovich flew unannounced to Tokyo, took a 1 1/2 hour cab ride to Chiyonofuji's house and played his Bach sarabande outside, as his gesture of sympathy—then got back in the taxi and returned to the airport to fly back to Europe.
Rostropovich received about 50 awards during his life, including:
|Awards and achievements|
Richard Goode and Richard Stoltzman
|Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance|
Juilliard String Quartet
Ray Charles and Ravi Shankar
|Polar Music Prize|
Pierre Boulez and Joni Mitchell