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Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was Born in 1927

Among his close collaborators included composers Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Lutosławski, Bernstein, Khachaturian, and Britten.


Mstislav Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan — then part of the Soviet Union — into a musical family. Alongside extended family, his sister was a violinist, his mother a pianist, and his father was a well-established cellist who later studied with the famed Pau Casals

Possessing perfect pitch, Rostropovich was taught piano by his mother from the age of four. His first cello teacher at age eight was his father, who taught at the Central Music School in Moscow. Making his solo orchestral debut at age 13, Rostropovich also held a keen interest in composition throughout his childhood.

In 1943, Rostropovich attended the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied cello with his uncle Semyon Kozolupov, piano with Nikolai Kuvshinnikov, and composition with Vissarion Shebalin

Following his debut with the Moscow Philharmonic in 1946, he completed his doctoral studies in music two years later at a time when he was being recognized as one of the Soviet Union’s brightest stars — equally proficient on the piano as he was on the cello. 

His artistry and admiration for new works soon drew international attention, inspiring composers such as Britten, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khatchaturian, Schnittke, Bernstein, Dutilleux, and Lutoslawski, to write pieces for him. The 1959 premiere of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 was one of over 100 world premieres that Rostropovich performed.

In 1953, he began teaching. His many students included Jacqueline du Pré, Natalia Gutman, Karine Georgian, Mischa Maisky, Frans Helmerson, and David Geringas. In 1956, he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory and made his New York and London debuts the same year.


Rostropovich took up conducting later in his life, and in 1968, made his conducting debut with Eugene Onegin in Moscow. After leaving for the west in 1974, he was appointed music director of Washington, D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra in 1974, where he remained for 17 seasons and later became an honorary conductor. He was also a guest conductor of the London Philharmonic and a long-time collaborator of the London Symphony Orchestra

As a chamber musician, he performed in a sonata duo with pianist Sviatoslav Richter and in a well-regarded trio with pianist Emil Gilels and violinist Leonid Kogan, a group that later disbanded due to political differences. Additionally, he played piano in popular recitals with his wife — esteemed soprano Galina Vishnevskaya — whom he married in 1955. 

He was also a great humanitarian and an advocate for cultural freedom in the Soviet Union — a stance that stripped him of his Soviet citizenship in 1978, which was restored in 1990. In 1991, he and his wife founded the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation to improve Russia’s and other former Soviet republics’ healthcare for children and gave numerous concerts for various charities.  

According to The Kennedy Center, Rostropovich held more than 40 honorary degrees and was awarded from over 30 countries with accolades, including the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Commander of the Legion d'Honneur of France, member of the Academy of Arts of the French Institute, Japan Art Association's Præmium Imperiale, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Kennedy Center Honors Award. Moreover, his coveted recordings earned him a GRAMMY award and the Grand Prix du Disque. 

As written in the Guardian, he played on cellos made by Storioni, Guadagnini  Goffriller, Peresson, Vatelot, as well as the “Visconti” Stradivarius cello, and his favored “Duport” Stradivarius cello. Retiring as a concert performer in 2005, he died on April 27, 2007, aged 80.

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