CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Mstislav Rostropovich, 1927-2007

Mstislav RostropovichThe 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.

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.
See also the tribute by Tim Page in the Post today.


Anonymous said...

Yet he also supported Putin.

Charles T. Downey said...

Point taken. I found Putin's presence at Rostropovich's 80th birthday celebration, while appropriate for a Russian head of state, to reek of cultural profiteering.

jfl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jfl said...

He did *not* support Putin - anonymous has no clue what he/she is talking about.

Putin and "Slava" had a very tense relationship - no matter all the hagiographic eulogies that will now follow from the official Russian side. The critics in Moscow didn't tear through Rostropovich just because he was performing badly (although I am sure he was -- last time in DC he was already incapable of conducting properly nor able to reckognize people) but also because the top address in Russia was keen on seing him humiliated. Premieres were cancelled, rehearsals were cancelled... it dates back to Putin being second major of St.Petersburg, organizing him a huge apartment (someone like Rostropovich would of course not BUY something but had to be GIVEN something) -- and M.R. then invited Putin and his boss to a big party he threw. Except when the major wasn't re-elected, he and Putin were UNinvited. Putin never forgot nor forgave.

How the death of a sick man is a tragedy to this town or anywhere else, except his friends and family, is completely beyond me. His memory, whatever memory one may have of him, and his art live on.

A slobberingly adulatory series of articles about M.R. can be found in last month's GRAMOPHONE.

A post with recommendations of his best recordings (and there *are* some I much admire) will be forthcoming.

jfl said...

p.s. ctd is excatly right with his comment above -- and would be right to say the same thing about whatever Putin does relating to MR's funeral/death. Funny how two men Putin loathed - Jelzin and Slava - die within such short a time and both times he has to lie through his teeth at a grave. At least Slava was - by and large - loved by Russians, whereas Jelzin is the symbol of "the great shame" - not much else.

David Polk said...

For Immediate Release:
April 27, 2007

98.7WFMT Pays Tribute to Cellist, Conductor Mstislav Rostropovich

Listener Memories, Recordings and Rare Interviews Pre-empt Regular Music Schedule

Chicago, IL -- 98.7WFMT, Chicago's Classical Experience, is paying tribute to Russian musician and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich who died this morning in Moscow. Today, Friday April 27, and tomorrow morning, Saturday April 28, the station is airing recordings from its archives of Rostropovich cello performances and conducting various orchestras around the world. In addition, the station is airing voicemails and reading emails from listeners recounting memories of the world-renowned musician, who visited Chicago many times during his lifetime. Rare interviews have also been posted on

The special tribute pre-empts previously scheduled musical programming.

"Today represents a major loss for the classical music world" said WFMT Program Director Peter Whorf, "and it's only appropriate that we use our archives to pay tribute." On his blog, Whorf posted a rare audio clip of composer Dmitri Shostakovich speaking of his friend Rostropovich as well as a recent interview producer Jon Tolansky conducted with him in 2002.

One Internet listener remarked via email that "the great significance of Mstislav Rostropovich to the music world and the world in general is tremendous. As you played his recording of what he played at the [collapse of the] Berlin Wall, I was deeply touched. Your efforts all morning to honor this great person is just one more reason what we love your station.

"Thanks so much for all you do daily to enrich our lives."

More information about 98.7WFMT and 98.7WFMT Streaming is available at

About 98.7WFMT
98.7WFMT, Chicago's Classical Experience, provides the best and broadest selection of classical music and fine arts programming heard in the country. A broadcasting force for more than 55 years, the station's appeal continues to widen. 98.7WFMT is currently serving the largest audience in its history.
Holly H. Gilson
98.7WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network
(773) 509-5424

Mark Barry said...

I'm suspicious when anyone/Russian dies in Russia/anywhere, while Putin is around.