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Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич (Mstislav Rostropovich) dies at age 80
French open news

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The old conductor, and an infant Mstislav (1927) rests in his fathers cello case.

Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич . . .

Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich (Russian: Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич, Mstislav Leopol’dovič Rostropo’vič, March 27, 1927 – April 27, 2007),[1] affectionately known as "Slava," was a Russian cellist and conductor considered to be one of the greatest cellists ever.[2] He was well known for his interpretations of Dvořák’s B minor cello concerto and Haydn’s cello concertos in C and D, and for his commissions of new works which have considerably enlarged the cello repertoire (notably by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten, Lutoslawski, Penderecki and Dutilleux).

Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union. From 1943 to 1948, he studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where he became professor of cello in 1956. He lived for the latter part of his life in self-imposed exile in Paris.

The Chicago Tribune reported that rumors about declining health began to spread in 2006, when he underwent unspecified surgery in Geneva and later that year received treatment for an aggravated ulcer.

Rostropovich had been treated at a Moscow clinic in early 2007 for what was reported to be hepatic cirrhosis, or degeneration of the liver. At the time, rumors flew that he was dying, fed by his having been visited by Russian President Vladimir Putin. It later was discovered that Putin met Rostropovich to discuss details of a celebration the Kremlin was planning for March 27, 2007, Rostropovich’s 80th birthday. The celebration took place and Rostropovich was reportedly in frail health.

The Itar-Tass news agency reported that Rostropovich died on April 27, 2007 in Moscow, after having been hospitalized in February of the same year for intestinal cancer. He was 80.

Early years

Born to Russian parents in Baku, Azerbaijan, at age 4, he learned the piano with his mother who was a talented pianist, and started the cello at the age of 10 with his father, who was also a cellist and a student of Pablo Casals.

He entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1943, at the age of 16, where he studied not only the piano and the cello, but also conducting and composition. Among his teachers were Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev.

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. At that time, Rostropovich was already well known in his country and while actively pursuing his solo career, he taught at the Leningrad Conservatory (now Saint-Petersburg) and the Moscow Conservatory. In 1955, he married Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano at the Bolshoi Theatre.

His international career started in 1964 in what was then West Germany. As of this date, he went on several tours in western Europe and met several composers, including Benjamin Britten. In 1967, 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 fought for art without borders, freedom of speech and democratic values, resulting in a reprimand from the Soviet regime. His friendship with Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his support for dissidents led to official disgrace in the early 1970s. He was banned from several musical ensembles and his Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1978 because of his public opposition to the Soviet Union ‘s restriction of cultural freedom. Rostropovich left the Soviet Union in 1974 with his wife and children and settled in the United States.

Further career
Mstislav Rostropovich with Julian Lloyd Webber
Mstislav Rostropovich with Julian Lloyd Webber

Rostropovich was a huge influence on the younger generation of cellists. Many have openly acknowledged their debt to his example. Julian Lloyd Webber remarked "no other single person has done as much for the cello as he has", The Independent, London.

His talent inspired compositions from numerous composers such as Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Prokofiev, Britten, Dutilleux, Bernstein and Penderecki. He and fellow Soviet composer Dmitri Kabalevsky completed Prokofiev’s Cello Concertino after the composer’s death. Rostropovich gave the first performances of both Shostakovich’s cello concertos. Rostropovich introduced Shostakovich’s First Concerto to London and began an association with Benjamin Britten. Britten dedicated the Cello Sonata, three Solo Suites and the Cello Symphony to Rostropovich, who gave their first performances.

From 1977 until 1994, he was musical director and conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, while still performing with some of the most famous musicians such as Sviatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz. He was also the director and founder of many music festivals (Aldeburgh, Rostropovitch Festival).
Rostropovich at the Berlin Wall
Rostropovich at the Berlin Wall

His impromptu performance during the Fall of the Berlin Wall as events unfolded earned him international fame and was shown on television throughout the world. His Russian citizenship was restored in 1990, although he and his family had already become American citizens.

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, started a foundation to stimulate social projects and activities. The couple funded a vaccination program in Azerbaijan. The Rostropovich Home Museum opened on March 4, 2002, in Baku. The Rostropoviches visited Azerbaijan occasionally. Rostropovich also presented cello master classes at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory.

Rostropovich’s instrument was the 1711 Duport Stradivarius, considered to be one of the greatest instruments ever made.

Rostropovich’s last home was in Paris; however, he maintained residences in Moscow, St. Petersburg, London and Lausanne. According to the New York Times, Rostropovich was admitted to a Paris hospital at the end of January 2007, but then decided to fly to Moscow, where he had been frequently receiving care.[3]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 late on Monday that President Vladimir Putin had visited the musician in hospital, prompting speculation that he was in a serious condition. Dolezhale said the visit was to discuss arrangements for marking Rostropovich’s 80th birthday. Post-mortem obituaries cited sources stating that the cellist suffered from intestinal cancer.[1] On March 6, 2007 the cellist was released from the Moscow hospital; his condition was said to have improved. [2] However, he re-entered the Blokhim Cancer Institute on April 7, 2007,[4] and died on April 27, 2007, according to BBC reports.[1]

Awards and recognitions

Rostropovich received about 50 awards during his life.

* Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance
* Polar Music Prize, 1995
* Mstislav Rostropovich & Rudolf Serkin for Brahms: Sonata for Cello and Piano in E Minor, Op. 38 and Sonata in F, Op. 99 (1984)
* Honor Award of the Republic of Azerbaijan
* Citizen of honor of Vilnius, Lithuania (2000)
* Order of Service to the Fatherland, First Degree, for his "outstanding contribution to the development of world music and many years of creative activity," presented by Vladimir Putin, 02/26/2007. Galina Vishnevskaya was awarded the Order of Service to the Fatherland, Second Degree.

Preceded by
Antal Doráti Musical Directors, National Symphony Orchestra
1977–1994 Succeeded by
Leonard Slatkin


1. ^ a b BBC News. Russian maestro Rostropovich dies. Retrieved 2007.04.27
2. ^ BBC News. Obituary: Mstislav Rostropovich. Retrieved 2007.04.27
3. ^ New York Times April 27, 2007
4. ^ Contactmusic. Russian cellist Rostropovish ‘seriously ill’. Retrieved 2007.04.27

* Kozinn, Alan, "Mstislav Rostropovich, Cellist and Conductor, Dies," New York Times April 27, 2007

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