Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich
born March 27, 1927, Baku, Azerbaijan S.S.R., U.S.S.R. [now Azerbaijan] died April 27, 2007, Moscow, Russia
Russian conductor and pianist and one of the best-known cellists of the 20th century.
Trained by his parents (a cellist and a pianist) and at the Moscow Conservatory (1943–48), Rostropovich became professor of cello at the conservatory in 1956. He began touring abroad in the 1950s. He also performed as a pianist in recitals with his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and in 1968 he made his debut as a conductor. When in 1970 Rostropovich made clear his support of the dissident Soviet writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the government sharply curtailed his ability to travel. In 1974, however, he and his wife were permitted to leave the country, and in 1975 they announced their decision not to return to the Soviet Union. In 1977 Rostropovich became music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., a post he held until 1994. The Soviet government deprived the couple of their citizenship in 1978 but reversed that decision in 1990.
Although sometimes criticized for occasional over-romanticism, Rostropovich was admired for his keen musicianship, both in contemporary works and in the established concert repertoire. His exploitation of the tonal resources of the cello was considered exceptional. Composers who wrote works for him include Aram Khachaturian, Sergey Prokofiev, Dmitry Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten, and Witold Lutosławski. The recipient of numerous awards, Rostropovich was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987. (March 27, Britannica)
Dear Virtuoso, I Wrote This One Just for You
Published: April 29, 2007
PEOPLE who pay the least attention to classical music probably know Mozart’s clarinet concerto and quintet, two indelibly beautiful works. But how many remember the name Anton Stadler? He was Mozart’s fellow Freemason in Vienna, a clarinetist for whom the works were written. The history of music is littered with Stadlers, great virtuosos whose artistry inspired the repertory we live with today. An outstanding example of such an artist, Mstislav Rostropovich, died last week.
Cristina Quickler/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
INSPIRATION Mstislav Rostropovich made sure there were plenty of new pieces for him to play.
Mstislav Rostropovich, 80, Dissident Maestro, Dies (April 28, 2007)
Mr. Rostropovich played a number of extraordinary roles in his life: brilliant cellist, conductor, thorn in the side of the Soviet regime, champion of artistic and political freedom, mentor and humanitarian.
One of his greatest legacies, though, will probably be a prodigious body of cello music composed for him or inspired by him.
He was the recipient of five pieces by Britten; two cello concertos by Shostakovich; and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante. He gave the first performances of works by Penderecki, Dutilleux, Lutoslawski, Schnittke, Messiaen, Bernstein, Auric and Walton and a host of other 20th-century composers.
Ralph Kirshbaum, an American cellist living in London, recalled a car ride with Mr. Rostropovich two years ago. The Russian said he was working on a new Penderecki piece. How many premieres had Mr. Rostropovich given, Mr. Kirshbaum idly asked. “It is No. 224,” Mr. Rostropovich answered — mostly cello works, but also pieces for orchestra, chamber ensemble and voice and piano (he was a capable accompanist).
“He is the supreme example of a practicing musician, an internationally renowned artist, who brings into the world so many new compositions,” said Mr. Kirshbaum, who runs an international cello festival in Manchester, England. The festival begins May 2 and will include a tribute to Mr. Rostropovich.
“He made it his business to know these composers and goad from them these compositions,” Mr. Kirshbaum said. “He would insist, ‘Must write piece for me!’ ”
Visual artists, of course, have always had muses, and the inspiration is obvious: they painted them. Picasso had his lover Dora Maar; Bonnard had his wife Marthe, whom he painted hundreds of times; Rembrandt, a genius of self-portraiture, had himself. Elsewhere in the world of performing arts, the great example of performer inspiration is George Balanchine, who built ballets on a succession of great dancers, some of whom became wives.
In music, the relationship between performer and composer is less intimate but no less powerful, although opera is something of an exception. Composers have long written operatic roles with specific singers — their voices, their looks, their personalities — in mind. Mozart several times added and subtracted arias based on who was singing in a particular production. Composers of that era also tended to write concertos for themselves or their students to play.
In our age, the importance of the performer as muse has grown, for several reasons. Technical advances in instrument-making over the last 100 years have broadened the range of what musicians can play. And musicians have become better. They want more music, and composers are stimulated to write for them. All this music helps keep the classical scene vibrant.
The oboe is a good example. Its modern form dates back only 100 years, meaning the 19th-century Romantics produced few solo works of note for oboe and orchestra. The Strauss concerto, a landmark, came in 1945, and since the 1960s, the Swiss soloist Heinz Holliger has played a major role in raising the oboe’s profile and inspiring myriad works by composers including Berio, Carter, Martin, Henze, Lutoslawski and Stockhausen.
“All of us guys with big jobs are always looking for new pieces to play,” said Eugene Izotov, principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “When a composer, no matter whether famous or not, sends me something, I’m very excited about it.”
New musical markets have arisen as the newer members of the modern symphony orchestra have come into their own. The trombone has a huge new body of recent solo literature. Much of it came about because of the Swedish trombone virtuoso Christian Lindberg, who counts at least 82 works written for him. Oystein Baadsvik of Norway, a tuba soloist, has given the premieres of some 40 works.
Even percussionists have a library of solo literature, born almost exclusively in the last 75 years. This month, the combined percussion ensembles of the Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music performed a pillar of the repertory, an entire symphony of percussion by Charles Wuorinen.
Playing an instrument brilliantly is not the only quality that leads to new works. Often, the performer is a composer too, like Mr. Holliger and Mr. Lindberg. Energy, a persuasive personality and plenty of commitment are also necessary, and Mr. Rostropovich excelled in these areas (and even composed a bit too).
Once, in the middle of a punishing schedule of concerts and travel, he appeared at a rehearsal with the English Chamber Orchestra to perform a new work at the Aldeburgh Festival, with Britten conducting, Mr. Kirshbaum said, recounting a story told by a member of the orchestra. He had not completely polished the piece, and Britten took offense. Mr. Rostropovich spent the night practicing. The next day, he played it perfectly. From memory.
Another insight into his dedication to new works came from Patricia O’Kelly, the longtime spokeswoman for the National Symphony Orchestra, which Mr. Rostropovich led as music director from 1977 to 1994. In an interview once, he wondered with mock anger why no cellist had ever asked Mozart, “Write for me cello concerto!” in Ms. O’Kelly’s paraphrase.
It was an accusation he never wanted made about him
(March 27, The New York Times)