(1927 – 2007) “Slava” Rostropovich

Russian Master Cellist and Conductor of the National Symphony Dies at 80; GaveRefuge to Solzhenitsyn

On Apr. 27, cellist, pianist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich died of intestinal cancer at the age of 80 in Moscow, one of the greatest cellist of our time and among the finest musicians Russia ever produced.

Besides his monumental musical talent, “Slava” was also a deeply political person, who strongly opposed the Soviet Regime from which he sought exile in 1974, together with his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya.

Rostropovich’s early career had flourished in the Soviet Union, both as a performer and a teacher.

But his decision to take a stand in defense of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1970 changed all that. He offered the banned writer refuge in his home, following publication of the novel Gulag Archipelago that earned the writer the Nobel Prize.

Under pressure from the authorities, the couple, who had been married since 1955, left for England and ultimately the United States.

The day of Rostropovich’s death was also the birthday of one of his mentors, the Russian composer Sergej Prokofiev (1891 – 1953). Another of his teachers was Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975), who’s First Cello Concerto was composed for Rostropovich; one of numerous compositions written for the cellist.  But music-making was an expression of freedom for “Slava”. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall finally fell, the cellist performed at the event.

And also in August 1991, following the military coup against Soviet President Mikail Gorbachev, “Slava”, who had befriended Boris Yeltsin, hastily flew to Russia to express his support for the future Russian president.

Not least important was Rostropovich’s conducting career, which led him, among other things, to the position of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C from 1977 to 1994, alongside a busy schedule of performing engagements.

On Apr. 28, the body of Mstislav Rostropovich was laid in state for public viewing at the Moscow Conservatory, where his musical career once began.

The funeral took place the following day at Novodevichy Cemetery, only four days after former President and friend Boris Yeltsin had been buried nearby.

An excellent selection of over 60 performance videos covering several decades, as well as news coverage of Mstislav Rostropovich’ funeral, are available for viewing on the Internet portal YouTube:


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