Did you ever meet Slava, or see him in concert? Tell us about it!
Post a tribute (text, photo, memory, anecdote...be creative) on the official Mstislav Rostropovich Facebook page, and fill in the form below. Don't forget to 'Like' the Facebook page. The three best responses will win a brand new copy of Rostropovich's iconic Dvorák & Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos LP , featuring the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Carlo Maria Giulini. Competition closes 27 April 2017, to mark ten years since Rostropovich's death.
Today 27 March, music-lovers around the world celebrate 90 years since the birth of Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), the greatest cellist of our time. Warner Classics pays homage with the deluxe collectors’ box set Cellist of the Century, comprising 40 CDs, 3 DVDs and a book.
Fully remastered live and studio recordings spanning more than three centuries of music - from Slava's beloved Bach Cello Suites to his iconic Dvořák Cello Concerto to recent works written for him - are complemented by a never-before-released audio interview and a 200-page hardback book full of information, insight and rarely-seen photographs.
"This box represents a big part of his life and it’s very beautifully done with a lot of love from the people who made it."-Elena Rostropovich
In this special short film, cellists Steven Isserlis and Gautier Capuçon, maestro Valery Gergiev, composer Krzsyzstof Penderecki and Slava's daughter Elena pay tribute to the legendary cellist, sharing personal memories.
“Rostropovich has perfected the art of cello playing.”
In the 1950s Roentgenizdat – or X-ray publishing – became a trend in Soviet counterculture. ‘Bone music’ and ‘rock on ribs’ are two other terms that describe these bootleg recordings of music from the West, ingeniously cut onto X-ray film discarded by hospitals.
This Record Store Day release bears an X-ray image of a spine and pelvis – with a 1966 recording that has its own underground history. When the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) was exiled from the USSR in the 1970s, a resourceful Soviet archivist saved the original tape from destruction by hiding it in a mislabeled box. It is Rostropovich’s world-premiere performance of the Cello Concerto No. 2 by his teacher and mentor Dmitri Shostakovich, recorded live in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under Evgeny Svetlanov, on the composer’s 60th birthday.
This is its first ever release on LP, in a numbered, limited-edition pressing of 3,000.
Not only was Rostropovich a towering musician; he became a figure of international humanitarian and political significance when he and his wife, the celebrated soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (1926-2012), were exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974 (and deprived of their Soviet citizenship in 1978) for their support of the dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who won the Nobel Prize in 1970. They left Russia with nothing and did not return until 1990, the era of glasnost and perestroika; Rostropovich played an active role in promoting ideological change during this momentous period in his country’s and the world’s history. In November 1989, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, he gave an impromptu Bach solo recital at the spot known as Checkpoint Charlie.
The release commemorates ten years since the legendary cellist’s death on 27 April 2007, but also a joyous occasion, celebrating the 10th edition of Record Store Day on Saturday 22 April, an international event devoted to supporting independent record stores, artists and vinyl LPs.
Pre-order exclusively at www.recordstoreday.com and via selected Record Store Day retailers.
Also available on vinyl: Dvorak & Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos (London Philharmonic, Giulini, 1977).
For more information about other releases in the Warner Classics ‘Rostropovich: Cellist of the Century’ anniversary edition, visit www.rostropovich2017.com.
The full timeline and an extensive biographical essay will be available in the book that makes up part of The Cellist of the Century box set, out 24 March.
More information: www.rostropovich2017.com
1927 – 27 MARCH
Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. His father Leopold Vitoldovich was then teaching cello at the Baku Conservatory — Slava was later to say of Leopold that he was a brilliant cellist, but “a very modest and unassuming person. His mother, Sofiya Nikolayevna Fedotova-Rostropovich, taught piano at the same establishment.
Rostropovich’s parents decided to move to Moscow with Slava and his older sister Veronika, so that both children could begin serious musical studies. With no money to speak of, they ended up in a tiny apartment (Slava slept on a camp bed under the piano).
Slava began classes at the Gnessin Academy, where his father had obtained a teaching post.
Slava broke his wrist as a result of an accident in the communal kitchen shared by his and several other families; it took months to heal. A year later, when he did well in his exams, one of his teachers said to Leopold, “If it would make all our pupils play as well as your son, perhaps we should consider breaking their wrists too!”
That same year, Slava was introduced to Vissarion Shebalin, future president of the Moscow Composers’ Union, who was impressed by his talent for…composition.
Slava made his public debut in an open-air concert conducted by Ilya Stupel in the Ukrainian resort of Slavyansk. He played Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No.1.
1941 – 22 JUNE
German troops invaded Russia. Slava and Veronika were evacuated to Penza, 375 miles south of Moscow, before the family moved on to Orenburg, where Leningrad’s Maly Theatre had set up its temporary home.
Leopold Vitoldovich died. Slava took over teaching his classes. He also gave a number of concerts, earning 70 roubles for each performance. “Ten concerts, and I had earned a kilogram of butter…”
Slava began classes with his uncle, Semyon Matveevich Kozolupov, at the
Slava continued his studies at the Conservatory, moving straight up from the second to the fifth year!
The first USSR National Music Competition was held since 1937, with sections for piano, violin and cello. Slava won first prize in the latter, having performed Myaskovsky’s Concerto in the final round. This choice of a contemporary work provoked considerable controversy. He was threatened and told he wouldn’t be safe if he went out alone at night.
Slava travelled abroad for the first time, to take part in the Prague International Music Competition. He and Fyodor Luzanov were declared joint winners of the first prize.
Rostropovich won first prize at the Budapest International Festival.
1951 – 14 and 21 JANUARY
He gave his first performances of the complete Bach Solo Cello Suites in the Small Hall at the Moscow Conservatory.
1951 – JUNE
Along with David Oistrakh, Emil Gilels and ballerina Galina Ulanova, Slava was chosen by Stalin to appear in the West.
1952 – 18 FEBRUARY
Slava gave the world premiere of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante with the Moscow Youth Orchestra conducted by Sviatoslav Richter. Rostropovich and Richter later joined forces to perform and record the Beethoven sonata cycle.
1955 – MAY
In Prague, Slava met Galina Vishnevskaya, star of the Bolshoi, and was immediately smitten. They went on to have two daughters: Olga, herself a cellist, and Elena, a pianist.
Rostropovich was awarded the Lenin Prize.
1968 – 12 JANUARY
He made his official conducting debut in Moscow, taking the helm for a
production of Eugene Onegin.
1970 – 25 JULY
World premiere of Henri Dutilleux’s cello concerto Tout un monde lointain… at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Serge Baudo conducted the Orchestre de Paris.
– 14 OCTOBER
World premiere of Witold Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto in London.
– 31 OCTOBER
The open letter written by Rostropovich to the Soviet press reached
1974 – 10 MAY
Rostropovich gave his last concert before leaving the USSR.
1977 – 28 JUNE–3 JULY
The inaugural Rostropovich Competition took place in La Rochelle. The jury included such prominent figures as Lutosławski, Dutilleux, Xenakis and Berio.
1978 – 14 MARCH
Leonid Brezhnev signed an edict of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet,
stripping Slava and Galina of their citizenship.
1980 – 27 FEBRUARY
Rostropovich and his wife gave a free concert in honour of their friend Andrei Sakharov at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Among the celebrities present were Arthur Rubinstein and future French president François Mitterrand.
Rostropovich became artistic director of the Rencontres musicales d’Évian
chamber music festival, attended annually by leading artists and a selection of the crowned heads of Europe.
1989 – 11 NOVEMBER
He travelled to Berlin and, sitting in front of the newly fallen Wall, played extracts from Bach’s Solo Suites — the Sarabande in C minor and Bourrée in C major.
1990 – 16 JANUARY
Mikhail Gorbachev signed a decree reinstating Slava and Galina’s citizenship.
1991 – MARCH
Rostropovich recorded the complete Bach Suites at Vézelay Abbey in Burgundy.
1997 – 27 MARCH
The cellist’s 70th birthday was marked by an official celebration at the
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, which was followed by a reception at the Élysée Palace.
2005 – 19 JUNE
In Vienna, Slava gave his last premiere — Penderecki’s Largo for cello and
orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa.
2006 – 3 DECEMBER
Rostropovich conducted his last concert in Tokyo in Sumida Triphony Hall with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra — a Shostakovich programme to mark the centenary of his friend’s birth.
2007 – 27 MARCH
Vladimir Putin hosted a reception at the Kremlin to celebrate Slava’s 80th birthday. Though very frail by then, the guest of honour was able to say a few words to express his emotions. That night he was fêted as a Russian hero.
2007 – 27 APRIL
Slava died at the Blokhin Cancer Research Centre in Moscow.
-Timeline by Elizabeth Wilson
The full version of this interview with Mstislav Rostropovich can be found in Warner Classics' new 4LP box set of the Bach Cello Suites, Rostropovich's iconic 1991 recording.
Pablo Casals playing the Bach Cello Suites can be heard in The Sound of Pablo Casals collection.
"To my mind the greatest name in cello history is that of Pablo Casals. I had already heard his recordings in friends’ homes in Moscow. Then 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 was only a couple of feet away from me – not a bit nervous about playing for me, but here he was with his bow and cello so close to me that my hands and legs started to tremble from sheer agitation because of the veneration in which I held this greatest of artists.
"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. When Casals played it seemed to me impossible to interpret Bach in any other way, such was the force of his personality and his nature as an artist, his total conviction in what he was doing. Therefore no copy can be authentic. 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." -Rostropovich
“When I started learning the cello,
I fell in love with the instrument
because it seemed like a voice. My voice."
Although Mstislav Rostropovich died 10 years ago, on April 27th 2007, he remains a powerful presence on the world’s cultural scene through his legacy as the greatest cellist of his time, as a brave advocate of human rights, and as a man of proverbial generosity and charisma, often known simply by his nickname, Slava. He would have celebrated his 90th birthday in 2017.
The phenomenal richness of his life and art is expressed in a magnificent 43-disc set to be released by Warner Classics on 24 March 2017: Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist of the Century. It forms the centrepiece of the label’s programme of Rostropovich releases for 2017, which also includes: eight individual albums also available as part of the box set, a double LP of the Dvořák Cello Concerto and Saint-Saëns Concerto No 1 (Giulini/London Philharmonic Orchestra), and an exclusive collector’s LP for World Record Store Day on 22 April 2017 – Rostropovich’s world-premiere live performance of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 2, with unique artwork inspired by illegal USSR recordings.
Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist of the Century has been curated by Warner Classics in close collaboration with Rostropovich’s daughters Elena and Olga, whose mother was the celebrated soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, Rostropovich’s wife from 1955 until his death. The label was given unprecedented access to Rostropovich’s personal archive; as a result, many rare photos and documents – including a letter of support for dissident Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn – enrich the 200-page hardback book that forms part of the box set. It also includes a comprehensive chronology and fascinating articles by Elizabeth Wilson, one of Rostropovich’s students, and by Claude Samuel, a former head of Radio France and a close friend of Rostropovich.
The set, conceived as a deluxe edition, comprises 40 CDs and 3 DVDs and contains an even balance of studio and live recordings. The range and variety of music it offers is nothing short of extraordinary, embracing works by more than 60 composers. For solo cello, cello and piano, cello and chamber group, and cello and orchestra, they extend from the Baroque to the latter part of the 20th century and from essential repertoire to rarities. They also reflect both Rostropovich’s mastery of the traditional cello repertoire and his commitment to new music: the dedicatee of over 120 new works, he numbered such composers as Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Britten among his close friends. A number of the live performances featured originate from Russian tapes saved from destruction by resourceful Soviet archivists when Rostropovich was exiled from the USSR (1974-1990), and which came back to light in the late 1990s. Another highlight is the complete Bach Cello Suites, presented here in both audio and video versions. In many senses these represent the culmination of Rostropovich’s recording career; he waited until 1991 to set them down the studio. The box also contains a substantial and previously unpublished audio interview, dating from 2006, in which Rostropovich discusses Shostakovich with the journalist Jon Tolansky.
Rostropovich: Cellist of the Century will be released in March 2017. For more information visit www.rostropovich2017.com
How did Mstislav Rostropovich choose “the right place” to record and film the Bach Cello Suites 25 years ago?
"The final chord brings my great task to its conclusion in this church in the wonderful small French town of Vézelay.
"Night has fallen – it’s cold. There’s a special feeling about being in such a large church alone at night, a church built 900 years ago. It’s very cold but one is warmed by the human spirit of those people who devoted their incredible efforts to creating this church which they dedicated to Mary Magdalene.
"I would like to tell you why it is here in Vézelay, in this particular church, that I have chosen to take such a bold step and record the suites.
"When I first entered this church I saw the rhythm of the internal architecture shorn of all superfluity, with none of the gilt and ornamental trimmings of the Baroque style.
"I saw the severity of line and the rhythm of this vaulted construction, which reminds me so powerfully of the rhythm of Bach’s music. It seemed to me that I had found the right place." -Mstislav Rostropovich
Rostropovich made his iconic recording of the Bach Cello Suites 25 years ago in Vézelay. It has been reissued in a collectors' 4LP vinyl box set.
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."
It's one of the most iconic, inspiring images in the history of classical music: Mstislav Rostropovich, the greatest cellist of the 20th century, born into the Soviet regime and a fierce defender of freedem of artistic expression, playing his beloved Bach in front of the Berlin Wall at the moment of its downfall, the graffitied Mickey Mouse behind him a symbol of innocence lost and perhaps one day reclaimed.
There could not have been a better choice of music: after all, the 'peaceful revolution' had begun a few months earlier with the masses assembled outside St Nicholas' Church in Leipzig, where Bach had composed his greatest masterpieces.
One morning in November, 1989, so the story goes, Rostropovich heard on the radio from his Paris apartment about the crowds of demonstrators gathering in Berlin. He immediately persuaded a friend who owned a private jet to fly him to what had been the scene of so much fear, oppression and bloodshed.
Arriving at the ominous Checkpoint Charlie, Rostropovich borrowed a chair from one of the guards and played the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite No.2 for the people gathered, an outpouring of emotion in music as the wall dividing East and West Germany came tumbling down.
Six years later, Rostropovich made this legendary recording of the complete Bach Cello Suites, which remains the benchmark performance and is newly reissued as a jewel in the Warner Classics catalogue.