Friday, April 27, 2007

Death of an Anti-communist: Mstislav Rostropovich, R.I.P.

From the BBC

The celebrated Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich has died at the age of 80.

A master musician, Mr Rostropovich was also renowned for his backing for human rights and opposition to Soviet rule.

He spent much of his career abroad, in self-imposed exile from the Soviet Union over his support for Nobel prize writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

But he returned as communism collapsed and performed a Bach suite as the Berlin Wall came down.

A month ago the Kremlin lavished praise on him as he celebrated his 80th birthday.

President Vladimir Putin said then the musician was not only "a brilliant cellist and gifted conductor," but also "a firm defender of human rights".

He died at a Moscow clinic after a long illness, his spokeswoman said.

Exile overseas

Mr Rostropovich studied at the Moscow Conservatoire under composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Dimitry Shostakovich, rapidly building a reputation for himself.

But his support for dissidents such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn - declared in a letter to state-run newspaper Pravda - made him a target for the Russian authorities.

He left the Soviet Union and spent several years in the West with his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and their children, as he continued to build an international career. In November 1989, he gave a spontaneous performance amid the rubble of the Berlin Wall, an image that was shown around the world.

A few years later, the cellist was rehabilitated by then Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and he returned there on several occasions to perform.

He latterly divided his time between Russia, the US and France.

In an interview with the BBC World Service in 2002, he said that the letter to Pravda was the best thing he had done in his life.

"The best step was not found in music, but in one page of this letter," he said. "Since that moment my conscience was clean and clear."

Read the BBC obituary here.