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Rostropovich Remembered

Recently we saw the passing of Mstislav Rostropovich. He was a famous Russian cellist, pianist and conductor. You may have seen something on the news. I am deeply saddened. It will take me a while to sort out my thoughts and feelings. I could probably write several pages about Rostropovich. There was some wonderful music written for the cello thanks to Rostropovich and composers that wrote for him.

Rostropovich was a bit before my time with the cello. I did not have an occasion to hear him play live. He cut back on performing on the cello over the years due to his age. I remember when I was young I was very inspired by his playing and it is one of the reasons I became a cellist. His recording of the Rococo Variations by Tchaikovsky had a big impact on me when I was starting the cello.

He had an incredible ability to play with a sustained rich sound. His playing was remarkably clear. He made the cello sound very easy to play. He may have influenced what people expect to hear from a cello forever. It seems sometimes that he did not play the cello, but an instrument like the cello except with fewer limitations and additional qualities.

I think there is a great deal to learn from him and his playing. For years cellists will continue to listen and watch his playing on recordings to discover what is possible on the cello.

There are two things I wanted to mention about Rostropovich. Often I am driving in my car and I listen to the radio and think to myself “What a wonderful cellist? Who is that?” Then I almost always hear that it is Rostropovich. Another thing is that you can put his playing on for just 2 or 3 notes and I can usually already recognize it.

Rostropovich will be dearly missed and my thoughts on him will continue to develop over the years. I hope that we will not forget him and continue to learn from him.


  1. You have put it all very well – the rich sound, the unmistakable personality and passion.

    I, too, was saddened by the news of his death, although I had known that he had little time left.

    In 1976, I heard him play the Beethoven 3rd Cello Sonata at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, when was an undergraduate there. He played in a barn of an auditorium (the old Hoch Auditorium), and yet he filled it with the most amazing sound and musicality. I’ve heard a lot of cellists live since, but that concert made the greatest impression.

    Rostropovich was always fascinating to listen to, and in works such as the Shostakovich concertos, the Dvorak concerto and the Tchaikovsky Variations, he may never be equalled.

    He was a great musician and a great man. Last week I searched for photos of him playing in 1989 in Berlin in front of Checkpoint Charlie at the then recently-breeched Berlin wall. I just printed two posters of them. I put one on my office door (I am a Professor of German)and one on my living room wall, near a painting of Brahms. He is the only performer whose picture I have put up thus. I do wonder what his compositions were like. I hadn’t known that he had done some composing. I’m hoping to find a video of his playing in fron of the Berlin Wall. I did find a short one in German on Youtube.

  2. It is often said that music is the mirror of the soul. In Rostropovich’s case, his actions as a humanitarian made amply clear the nature of his soul. Perhaps only because he was such a great man was he also able to be such a great musician.
    The technology of recording – both audio and video – has made it possible for us to continue to enjoy and learn from the work of departed masters. Indeed, he will live on, through recorded media, but Rostropovich the man will be deeply missed.

  3. I am simply in love with Rostropovich’s recording of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto in E-Flat Major! I have listened to any or all of it everyday for the past week. Just wished I could have seen it in person.

  4. RIP Slava!!! I too was very saddened to hear of his death. I wore black in mourning and made a point of telling everyone I knew. The sadest part was he only recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Who would have though. Inever listened to his recording much, but I knew quite a bit about him after reseaching Jackie du Pre, and his impact on her wasvery profound. In a couple weeks, I’m playing the Faure Elegie at a recital, and It’s going to be my elegy to him.

    Thank for mentioning this. It’s all very true what you said

  5. I did write a quite long post, but it seems to have not worked so I’ll make it shorter this time. It’s a travesty when I hear cellists who ask ‘Who’s that’ when someone mentions ‘Rostropovich’. So thankyou for putting this on your site so people can maybe look him up and discover such an incredible human being. Yo-yo Ma said that because of him, we owe 40% of our repertoire to him! Micha Maisky said he was like a second father, and I believe he was just this to absolutely everyone. When you simply watch him play, he’s teaching you, comforting you, telling you something…and its all from the soul, nothing flashy. His ability to teach so well meant that countless cellists experienced his mastery of teaching so that so many of us can have a connection with him in this way. I feel so lucky to be a descendant of his teaching as my teacher studied with him. He said once that Bach, Beethoven, Mozart are all still alive when their music is played or heard and in the same way, Rostropovich is always alive not only in his recordings but in our playing as so much of his playing is in ours – we just forget how much of a huge influence he has been.

    I, like Hannah, am also going to play faure’s elegie at a recital, as well as some excerpts of Bach suite, not in memory of him, put to keep his soul alive.

    thanks again for putting this up. and Slava, thankyou!

  6. Here is is July 2007, and I’m looking at the photo of Rostropovich I have hanging on my wall. Slava’s playing was “glory” indeed!

    Question: Does anyone know whether or not there was a video made of his playing to greet the East Germans coming through the Berlin wall in 1989? I’ve seen photos but can’t seem to locate a video. I refuse to believe that NO ONE had the sense to film that remarkable moment.


  7. I know that I saw a video of this at some point. Maybe it was on tv as a tribute to Rostropovich. There are some great pictures of it if you search on Google Images. You can search for Rostropovich, Berlin, wall. It is moving to see those. It is so great that he had the sense to do that.


  8. i must say that as a young cellist myself of 12 i find myself inspired by ur playing and can only aspire at this stage to be as good as you. it is truly inspirational that you have set this up! my favourite piece is Bach’s prelude. it was the first classical cello piece i can remember. it’s what got me into the cello.
    thank-you for inspiring me

  9. Ben – Great to hear about your cello playing. I also really liked the Bach prelude when I first started. I hope you get lots of enjoyment out of playing the cello.


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