The sad news has arrived that Mstislav Rostropovich has died in Moscow early this morning, after a battle with cancer. His death is especially tragic for Washingtonians because of the great Russian cellist and conductor's long relationship with the city, as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra from 1977 to 1994. Lacking words to express the enormity of Rostropovich's musical and humanitarian achievements, here is an excerpt of the tribute published by Jean-Louis Validire (Dissident et défenseur de Soljenitsyne, April 27) in Le Figaro today (my translation):
On November 9, 1989, in the very first hours after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mstislav Rostropovich, seated on a chair against a section of the Berlin Wall, played a Bach sonata [he means suite--Ed.]. The image broadcast on international television made him one of the architects of the struggle against a world that was crumbling and earned him worldwide recognition. But the cellist's actions in support of democracy and especially in defense of his persecuted friends did not date from that moment immortalized by photography.See also the tribute by Tim Page in the Post today.
Rostropovich always demonstrated an active sense of compassion for the victims of the purges. For example, he always defended the family and memory of Sergei Prokofiev, too often accused of collusion with the authorities, so much had the image of official composer been established. [...] Rostropovich's admiration for [Shostakovich] never flagged. He bought and renovated the apartment in St. Petersburg, in which Shostakovich had lived from 1914 to 1934. He brought together there a large amount of documents and souvenirs that had belonged to the composer to create a museum devoted to Shostakovich at 9 Rue Marat.
It was the defense of Solzhenitsyn that ultimately brought the Rostropoviches to their disgrace. Since 1969, the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya couple had supported the novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, by allowing him to live in their dacha outside Moscow. They also wrote, in 1970, an open letter to Brezhnev protesting Soviet restrictions on cultural freedom. These actions had as an immediate consequence the cancellation of the couple's concerts and recording projects, as well as all travel abroad. Later, in 1974, exit visas were granted that allowed them to go into exile, and four years later, they renounced their Soviet citizenship.