In Memoriam: Mstislav Rostropovych
Mstislav Rostropovych died today, 27 April 2007, in Moscow. One of the worlds greatest cellists, he was also a celebrated conductor and renowned defender of human rights.
The violist and conductor Yury Bashmet called him an “emperor of the bow and strings. “I learned of his death at a concert in Magadan and immediately asked the audience to honour his memory with a minutes silence”.
Mstislav Rostropovych turned 80 at the end of March. He was honoured in the Kremlin and many television channels showed programmes about him.
However the celebrated musician during his life was by no means so well treated by the authorities.
Rostropovych helped Soviet dissidents and human rights defenders. For a long time Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived at his home. Natalya Solzhenitsyna recalls:
“In Ryazan they would have crushed me”, Alexander Isaevich wrote. And there would have been homeless wandering. If it hadnt been for Mstislav Rostropovych and Galina Vishnevskaya who offered the outcast writer their home things would have been bad …
A year later, in the autumn of 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature – and again the newspaper attacks began. And here, unexpectedly, Rostropovich wrote an open letter to the Soviet media protesting against the official vilification of the author.
"Can it really be that the times we have lived through have not taught us to take a more cautious attitude toward crushing talented people? Why in our literature and art do absolutely incompetent people have the final word? Each human being must have the right to think for himself and to not simply vary the OPINION imposed on him. We will definitely achieve free discussion without being told or pushed as to what to say. I know that after my letter appears, there will certainly be an OPINION about me also, but I am not afraid of this and openly state what I think. The talents which are our pride must not be first beaten …”
The authorities, who had already scarcely tolerated Rostropovichs “Solzhenitsyn hospitality”, were now absolutely furious. Rostropovich was now also hindered and persecuted, with his concerts and tours being cancelled, and a blockade imposed around his very name. “
Later, when Alexander Solzhenitsyn was about to turn 80, Mstislav Rostropovych wrote: “I love and admire him enormously. We are great friends, I want to come to Moscow and give a concert for his eightieth birthday. Ill give all the money to his Public Foundation to help political prisoners and their families, because what Solzhenitsyn did for Russia is inestimable”.
Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya were forced to leave the country in 1974. They were stripped of their Soviet citizenship in 1978 for “systematic acts undermining the prestige of the Soviet State”.
Rostropovich took part in many campaigns in support of political prisoners in the USSR, tried to persuade Western leaders to seek democratization of the Soviet regime and observance of human rights in the USSR.
He was only rehabilitated in 1990 by Decree of the first and last President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev.
Rostropovich took an active part in two dramatic events leading to the collapse of the Soviet regime. In 1989 he played while the Berlin Wall was being dismantled then in 1991 he was in Moscow during the August coup and was one of the defenders of democracy and human rights guarding the White House.