September 08, 2016
Mstislav Rostropovich in his own words: interview with the legendary cellist.
Edited extracts from interviews which Rostropovich gave between recording sessions of the Bach Cello Suites in 1991. Read the full interview and detailed liner notes in the 25th anniversary 4-LP collectors' edition of Rostropovich's Bach Cello Suites, out today.
"Now I must pluck up courage and record all the Bach suites as I have been so closely linked to them throughout my life. Nothing in the world is more precious to me than these suites, which always allow you to discover something new. Each day, each hour, each minute you reflect upon them, you reach deeper. You think you know everything about them, but no, next day you discover something new.
“I have idolised Bach’s suites for a very long time now. At the age of 15, I started studying them all, one after the other. At 16, I joined Professor Kozolupov’s class at the Moscow Conservatoire. A great master of cello technique, of course, he was a man with his own views – with somewhat ‘Cossack’ aberrations in regard to Bach. For instance, he forbade us to repeat the second half of movements in binary form – he only let us repeat the first half. But it is essential to repeat both halves to maintain the symmetry.
"In 1957 I was invited to attend the Casals Competition in Paris. I was to meet the great man himself beforehand, and he invited me to his hotel in Paris. I came and met this affable man, pipe in mouth, with a bald head – although now I realise that there’s nothing wrong with being bald! He embraced me and said: ‘How can I thank you for coming? Let me play for you’. He started to play the Allemande from the First Suite. His playing had an incredibly powerful effect on me. It was a rhapsodic interpretation of Bach, I’d say, like a dialogue, keenly aware phrase-by-phrase of the listener’s reaction. A copy cannot reflect your own feelings or your own sense of phrasing, and is like a bottle without any wine in it. Casals played a great part in my life and in my love of Bach and music in general.
"The hardest thing to achieve in interpreting Bach is the necessary equilibrium between human feelings – the heart which undoubtedly Bach possessed – and the severe, seriousand profound aspect of interpretation. Bach has no shallow or transitory emotions, no momentary anger, no bad words or fleeting embraces – his emotions are as vast in scale as Shakespeare’s, yet common to all people on earth, from the most northerly to the most southerly races. We all weep when we suffer, we all know tears of joy. It is these fundamental emotions that Bach transmits in his suites."