Mstislav Rostropovich

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Mstislav Rostropovich RIAN archive 438589 Mstislav Rostropovich.jpg
Mstislav Rostropovich

Mstislav Leopoldovich "Slava" Rostropovich (Russian: Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич, romanized: Mstislav Leopol'dovič Rostropovič, pronounced  [rəstrɐˈpovʲɪtɕ] ; 27 March 1927 27 April 2007) was a Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor. He is considered to be one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. In addition to his interpretations and technique, he was well known for both inspiring and commissioning new works, which enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since. He inspired and premiered over 100 pieces, [1] forming long-standing friendships and artistic partnerships with composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Henri Dutilleux, Witold Lutosławski, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Norbert Moret, Andreas Makris, Leonard Bernstein, Aram Khachaturian and Benjamin Britten.


Rostropovich was internationally recognized as a staunch advocate of human rights, and was awarded the 1974 Award of the International League of Human Rights. He was married to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and had two daughters, Olga and Elena Rostropovich.

Early years

House in Baku, where Rostropovich was born Building on Rostropovichs Street 19 (2).jpg
House in Baku, where Rostropovich was born

Mstislav Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, to parents who had moved from Orenburg: Leopold Vitoldovich Rostropovich  [ ru ], a renowned cellist and former student of Pablo Casals, [2] and Sofiya Nikolaevna Fedotova-Rostropovich, a talented pianist. [3] Mstislav's father was born in Voronezh to Witold Rostropowicz  [ ru ], a composer of Polish noble descent, and Matilda Rostropovich, née Pule. The Polish part of his family bore the Bogoria coat of arms, which was located at the family palace in Skotniki. Mstislav's mother Sofiya [4] and her elder sister Nadezhda were the daughters of the founder of the Fedotov Music School in Orienburg, Nikolay Fedotov. Nadezhda married the cellist Semyon Kozolupov, who was thus Rostropovich's uncle by marriage. [5]

Rostropovich grew up in Baku and spent his youth there. During World War II his family moved back to Orenburg and then in 1943 to Moscow. [6] At the age of four, Rostropovich learned the piano with his mother. He began the cello at the age of 10 with his father.

In 1943, at the age of 16, he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied cello with his uncle Semyon Kozolupov, and piano, conducting and composition with Vissarion Shebalin. His teachers also included Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1945 he came to prominence as a cellist when he won the gold medal in the Soviet Union's first ever competition for young musicians. [2] He graduated from the Conservatory in 1948, and became professor of cello there in 1956.

First concerts

Rostropovich gave his first cello concert in 1942. He won first prize at the international Music Awards of Prague and Budapest in 1947, 1949 and 1950. In 1950, at the age of 23 he was awarded what was then considered the highest distinction in the Soviet Union, the Stalin Prize. [7] At that time, Rostropovich was already well known in his country and while actively pursuing his solo career, he taught at the Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) Conservatory and the Moscow Conservatory. In 1955, he married Galina Vishnevskaya, a leading soprano at the Bolshoi Theatre. [8]

Rostropovich had working relationships with Soviet composers of the era. In 1949 Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119, for the 22-year-old Rostropovich, who gave the first performance in 1950, with Sviatoslav Richter. Prokofiev also dedicated his Symphony-Concerto to him; this was premiered in 1952. Rostropovich and Dmitry Kabalevsky completed Prokofiev's Cello Concertino after the composer's death. Dmitri Shostakovich wrote both his first and second cello concertos for Rostropovich, who also gave their first performances.

Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten in 1964 RIAN archive 25562 Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten after a concert.jpg
Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten in 1964

His international career started in 1963 in the Conservatoire of Liège (with Kirill Kondrashin) and in 1964 in West Germany.

Rostropovich went on several tours in Western Europe and met several composers, including Benjamin Britten, who dedicated his Cello Sonata, three Solo Suites, and his Cello Symphony to Rostropovich. Rostropovich gave their first performances, and the two had an obviously special affinity – Rostropovich's family described him as "always smiling" when discussing "Ben", and on his death bed he was said to have expressed no fear as he and Britten would, he believed, be reunited in Heaven. [9] Britten was also renowned as a piano accompanist and together they recorded, among other works, Schubert's Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor. His daughter claimed that this recording moved her father to tears of joy even on his deathbed.

Rostropovich also had long-standing artistic partnership with Henri Dutilleux ( Tout un monde lointain... for cello and orchestra, Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher for solo cello), Witold Lutosławski (Cello Concerto, Sacher-Variation for solo cello), Krzysztof Penderecki (cello concerto n°2, Largo for cello and orchestra, Per Slava for solo cello, sextet for piano, clarinet, horn, violin, viola and cello), Luciano Berio (Ritorno degli snovidenia for cello and thirty instruments, Les mots sont allés... for solo cello) as well as Olivier Messiaen ( Concert à quatre for piano, cello, oboe, flute and orchestra).

Rostropovich took private lessons in conducting with Leo Ginzburg, [10] and first conducted in public in Gorky in November 1962, performing the four entractes from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and Shostakovich's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death with Vishnevskaya singing. [11] In 1967, at the invitation of the Bolshoi Theatre's director Mikhail Chulaki, he conducted Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin at the Bolshoi, thus letting forth his passion for both the role of conductor and the opera. [12]

Proms on 21 August 1968

Rostropovich played at The Proms on the night of 21 August 1968. He played with the Soviet State Symphony Orchestra – it was the orchestra's debut performance at the Proms. The programme featured Czech composer Antonín Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor and took place on the same day that Russia invaded Czechoslovakia to end Alexander Dubček's Prague Spring. [13] After the performance, which had been preceded by heckling and demonstrations, the orchestra and soloist were cheered by the Proms audience. [14] Rostropovich stood and held aloft the conductor's score of the Dvořák as a gesture of solidarity for the composer's homeland and the city of Prague, a place he loved.

As an encore he played the Sarabande from the Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008 by Johann Sebastian Bach, a piece that he said he liked to offer to those who were sad.


Rostropovich playing the Duport Stradivarius at the White House in 1978 Mstislav Rostropovich 1978.jpg
Rostropovich playing the Duport Stradivarius at the White House in 1978

Rostropovich fought for art without borders, freedom of speech, and democratic values, resulting in harassment from the Soviet regime. An early example was in 1948, when he was a student at the Moscow Conservatory. In response to the 10 February 1948 decree on so-called 'formalist' composers, his teacher Dmitri Shostakovich was dismissed from his professorships in Leningrad and Moscow; the 21-year-old Rostropovich quit the conservatory, dropping out in protest. [15] In 1970, Rostropovich sheltered Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who otherwise would have had nowhere to go, in his own home. His friendship with Solzhenitsyn and his support for dissidents led to official disgrace in the early 1970s. As a result, Rostropovich was restricted from foreign touring, [16] as was his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and his appearances performing in Moscow were curtailed, as increasingly were his appearances in such major cities as Leningrad and Kiev. [17]

Rostropovich left the Soviet Union in 1974 with his wife and children and settled in the United States. He was banned from touring his homeland with foreign orchestras and in 1977 the Soviet leadership instructed musicians from the Soviet bloc not to take part in an international competition he had organised. [18] In 1978 Rostropovich was deprived of his Soviet citizenship because of his public opposition to the Soviet Union's restriction of cultural freedom. He would not return to the Soviet Union until 1990. [7]

Further career

On December 17, 1988, Rostropovich gave a special concert at Barbican Hall in London, after postponing a trip to India for the Armenian Earthquake relief program. The event was part of an effort called Musicians for Armenia, which was expected to raise more than $450,000 from donations worldwide, including gifts from musicians, concert proceeds and film and recording rights. Prince Charles and the Princess of Wales attended the concert in the sold-out 2,026-seat concert hall. [19]

On February 7, 1989, a cello concert was organized by the Armenian Relief Society and the Volunteers Technical Assistance (VTA) for the victims of the Spitak Earthquake. The cello concert par excellence with Mstislav Rostropovich interpreting his best cello repertoire, including Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor; Haydn's cello concerti in C and D; Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto; the two cello concerti of Shostakovich, and others. The evening with Rostropovich raised awareness and helped hundreds of earthquake victims put food on their table. The concert was held at the Kennedy Center and over 2,300 were in attendance. [20]

Mstislav Rostropovich with wife Galina Vishnevskaya in 1965 Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya NYWTS cropped.jpg
Mstislav Rostropovich with wife Galina Vishnevskaya in 1965
Galina Vishnevskaya and Mstislav Rostropovich with their daughters at home, 1 February 1959 RIAN archive 70350 Opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich with their daughters at home.jpg
Galina Vishnevskaya and Mstislav Rostropovich with their daughters at home, 1 February 1959
Mstislav Rostropovich, 18 September 1959 RIAN archive 6848 Mstislav Rostropovich.jpg
Mstislav Rostropovich, 18 September 1959
Mstislav Rostropovich, chief conductor of U.S. National Symphony Orchestra, greets the audience in Bolshoi Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, 13 February 1990 RIAN archive 474794 Mstislav Rostropovich, chief conductor and art director of U.S. National Symphony Orchestra.jpg
Mstislav Rostropovich, chief conductor of U.S. National Symphony Orchestra, greets the audience in Bolshoi Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, 13 February 1990
Mstislav Rostropovich and his fans in Moscow RIAN archive 474791 Mstislav Rostropovich, chief conductor and artistic director of U.S. National Symphony Orchestra.jpg
Mstislav Rostropovich and his fans in Moscow
Rostropovich and Alexander Solzhenitsyn at the celebration of Solzhenitsyn's 80th birthday, 17 December 1998 RIAN archive 6624 Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Mstislav Rostropovich.jpg
Rostropovich and Alexander Solzhenitsyn at the celebration of Solzhenitsyn's 80th birthday, 17 December 1998
Cello festival at Kronberg Academy Rostropowitsch-plakat-kronberg001.jpg
Cello festival at Kronberg Academy

From 1977 until 1994, he was music director and conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in [Washington, D.C.] while still performing with some of the most famous musicians such as Martha Argerich, Sviatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz. [21] He was also the director and founder of the Mstislav Rostropovich Baku International Festival and was a regular performer at the Aldeburgh Festival in the UK. [22]

Memorial at Kronberg Rostropowitsch-denkmal-kronberg003.jpg
Memorial at Kronberg

His impromptu performance during the fall of the Berlin Wall as events unfolded was reported throughout the world. [23] His Soviet citizenship was restored in 1990.

When, in August 1991, news footage was broadcast of tanks in the streets of Moscow, Rostropovich responded with a characteristically brave, impetuous and patriotic gesture: he bought a plane ticket to Japan on a flight that stopped at Moscow, talked his way out of the airport and went to join Boris Yeltsin in the hope that his fame might make some difference to the chance of tanks moving in. [24]

Rostropovich supported Yeltsin during the 1993 constitutional crisis and conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in Red Square at the height of the crackdown. [25]

In 1993, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Kronberg Academy and was a patron until his death. He commissioned Rodion Shchedrin to compose the opera Lolita and conducted its premiere in 1994 at the Royal Swedish Opera.

Rostropovich received many international awards, including the French Legion of Honor and honorary doctorates from many international universities. He was an activist, fighting for freedom of expression in art and politics. An ambassador for the UNESCO, he supported many educational and cultural projects. [26] Rostropovich performed several times in Madrid and was a close friend of Queen Sofía of Spain.

Rostropovich and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, founded the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Foundation, a publicly supported non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C., in 1991 to improve the health and future of children in the former Soviet Union. The Rostropovich Home Museum opened on 4 March 2002, in Baku. [27] The couple visited Azerbaijan occasionally. Rostropovich also presented cello master classes at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory.

Together they formed a valuable art collection. In September 2007, when it was slated to be sold at auction by Sotheby's in London and dispersed, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov stepped forward and negotiated the purchase of all 450 lots in order to keep the collection together and bring it to Russia as a memorial to the great cellist's memory. Christie's reported that the buyer paid a "substantially higher" sum than the £20 million pre-sale estimate [28]

In 2006, he was featured in Alexander Sokurov's documentary Elegy of a life: Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya. [29]

His instruments included the 1711 Duport Stradivarius, a Storioni on which he made most of his recordings and a Peter Guarneri of Venice.

Later life

Rostropovich's health declined in 2006, with the Chicago Tribune reporting rumours of unspecified surgery in Geneva and later treatment for what was reported as an aggravated ulcer. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Rostropovich to discuss details of a celebration the Kremlin was planning for 27 March 2007, Rostropovich's 80th birthday. Rostropovich attended the celebration but was reportedly in frail health.

Though Rostropovich's last home was in Paris, he maintained residences in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, London, Lausanne, and Jordanville, New York. Rostropovich was admitted to a Paris hospital at the end of January 2007, but then decided to fly to Moscow, where he had been receiving care. [30] On 6 February 2007 the 79-year-old Rostropovich was admitted to a hospital in Moscow. "He is just feeling unwell", Natalya Dolezhale, Rostropovich's secretary in Moscow, said.[ This quote needs a citation ] Asked if there was serious cause for concern about his health she said: "No, right now there is no cause whatsoever." She refused to specify the nature of his illness. The Kremlin said that President Putin had visited the musician on Monday in the hospital, which prompted speculation that he was in a serious condition. Dolezhale said the visit was to discuss arrangements for marking Rostropovich's 80th birthday. On 27 March 2007, Putin issued a statement praising Rostropovich. [31]

He re-entered the Blokhin Russian Cancer Research Centre on 7 April 2007, where he was treated for intestinal cancer. He died on 27 April. [23] [32] [33]

On 28 April, Rostropovich's body lay in an open coffin at the Moscow Conservatory, [34] where he once studied as a teenager, and was then moved to the Church of Christ the Saviour. Thousands of mourners, including Putin, bade farewell. Spain's Queen Sofia, French first lady Bernadette Chirac and President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan, where Rostropovich was born, as well as Naina Yeltsina, the widow of Boris Yeltsin, were among those in attendance at the funeral on 29 April. Rostropovich was then buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, the same cemetery where his friend Boris Yeltsin had been buried four days earlier. [35]


Rostropovich was a huge influence on the younger generation of cellists. Many have openly acknowledged their debt to his example. In the Daily Telegraph, Julian Lloyd Webber called him "probably the greatest cellist of all time." [36]

Rostropovich either commissioned or was the recipient of compositions by many composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Olivier Messiaen, André Jolivet, Witold Lutosławski, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Leonard Bernstein, Alfred Schnittke, Aram Khachaturian, Astor Piazzolla, Andreas Makris, Sofia Gubaidulina, Arthur Bliss, Colin Matthews and Lopes Graça. His commissions of new works enlarged the cello repertoire more than any previous cellist: he gave the premiere of 117 compositions. [1]

Rostropovich is also well known for his interpretations of standard repertoire works, including Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor and Haydn's cello concerti in C and D,[ citation needed ] Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto and the two cello concerti of Shostakovich.

Rostropovich with BACH.Bow in 1999 Rostropovich with BACHBow 1999.jpg
Rostropovich with BACH.Bow in 1999

Between 1997 and 2001 he was intimately involved in the development and testing of the BACH.Bow, [37] a curved bow designed by the cellist Michael Bach. In 2001 he invited Michael Bach for a presentation of his BACH.Bow to Paris (7th Concours de violoncelle Rostropovitch). [38] In July 2011, the city of Moscow announced plans to erect a statue of Rostropovich in a central square, [39] and the statue was unveiled in March 2012. [40]

He was also a notably generous spirit. Seiji Ozawa relates an anecdote: on hearing of the death of the baby daughter of his friend the sumo wrestler Chiyonofuji, Rostropovich flew unannounced to Tokyo, took a 1 1/2 hour cab ride to Chiyonofuji's house and played his Bach sarabande outside, as his gesture of sympathythen got back in the taxi and returned to the airport to fly back to Europe.

Rostropovich is included in the Russian-American Chamber of Fame of Congress of Russian Americans, which is dedicated to Russian immigrants who made outstanding contributions to American science or culture. [41]

Plaque on building where Azerbaijani and Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich lived in Baku Mstislav Rostropovicin Bakida xatir@ lovh@si.jpg
Plaque on building where Azerbaijani and Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich lived in Baku

Awards and recognition

Rostropovich received about 50 awards during his life, including:

Russian Federation and USSR


Other awards

Related Research Articles

The Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107, was composed in 1959 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich wrote the work for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich, who committed it to memory in four days and gave the premiere on October 4, 1959, with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in the Large Hall of the Leningrad Conservatory. The first recording was made in two days following the premiere by Rostropovich and the Moscow Philharmonic, under the baton of Aleksandr Gauk.

The Cello Concerto No. 2, Opus 126, was written by Dmitri Shostakovich in the spring of 1966 in the Crimea. Like the first concerto, it was written for Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the premiere in Moscow under Yevgeny Svetlanov on 25 September 1966 at the composer's 60th birthday concert. Sometimes the concerto is listed as being in the key of G, but the score gives no such indication.

Galina Vishnevskaya Russian soprano opera singer and recitalist

Galina Pavlovna Vishnevskaya was a Russian soprano opera singer and recitalist who was named a People's Artist of the USSR in 1966. She was the wife of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and mother to their two daughters, Olga and Elena Rostropovich.

Rodion Shchedrin Russian composer

Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin is a Soviet and Russian composer and pianist, winner of USSR State Prize (1972), the Lenin Prize (1984), and the State Prize of the Russian Federation (1992), and is a former member of the Inter-regional Deputies Group (1989–1991). He is also a citizen of Lithuania and Spain.

Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto in E minor, Op. 125 is a large-scale work for cello and orchestra. Prokofiev dedicated it to Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it on February 18, 1952 with Sviatoslav Richter conducting. After this first performance, it was revised and given its current title. It is itself a revised version of his earlier Cello Concerto, Op. 58, written in 1933–1938.

Nikolai Myaskovsky Russian composer

Nikolai Yakovlevich Myaskovsky or Miaskovsky or Miaskowsky, was a Russian and Soviet composer. He is sometimes referred to as the "Father of the Soviet Symphony". Myaskovsky was awarded the Stalin Prize five times, more than any other composer.

Gennady Rozhdestvensky Russian conductor and composer

Gennady Nikolayevich Rozhdestvensky, CBE was a Soviet and Russian conductor, People's Artist of the USSR (1976), and Hero of Socialist Labour (1990).

Truls Mørk Norwegian cellist.

Truls Olaf Otterbech Mørk is a Norwegian cellist.

Yuri Bashmet Russian conductor, violinist, and violist

Yuri Abramovich Bashmet is a Russian conductor, violinist, and violist.

David Geringas is a Lithuanian cellist and conductor who studied under Mstislav Rostropovich. In 1970 he won the gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He also plays the baryton, a rare instrument associated with music of Joseph Haydn.

Ilya Kaler is a Russian-born violinist. Born and educated in Moscow, Kaler is the only person to have won Gold Medals at all three of the International Tchaikovsky Competition ; the Sibelius ; and the Paganini.

Daniel Müller-Schott is a German cellist.

Natalia Grigoryevna Gutman, PAU, is a Russian cellist. She began to study cello at the Moscow Music School with R. Sapozhnikov. She was later admitted to the Moscow Conservatory, where she was taught by Galina Kozolupova amongst others. She later studied with Mstislav Rostropovich.

Alexander Ivashkin Russian musician

Alexander Ivashkin, was a Russian cellist, writer, academic and conductor.

Sviatoslav Nikolayevich Knushevitsky was a Soviet-Russian classical cellist. He was particularly noted for his partnership with the violinist David Oistrakh and the pianist Lev Oborin in a renowned piano trio from 1940 until his death. After Mstislav Rostropovich and Daniil Shafran, he is spoken of as one of the pre-eminent Russian cellists of the 20th century.

Rudolf Barshai Russian conductor

Rudolf Borisovich Barshai was a Soviet and Russian conductor and violist.

Dmitry Yablonsky Russian cellist

Dmitry Albertovich Yablonsky is a Russian classical cellist and conductor, who was educated at the Juilliard School of Music and Yale University.

The Cello Sonata, Op. 65, is a work by the English composer Benjamin Britten. It was premiered in July 1961 at the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk. The work is in five movements:

  1. Dialogo. Allegro
  2. Scherzo-Pizzicato. Allegretto
  3. Elegia. Lento
  4. Marcia. Energico
  5. Moto perpetuo. Presto

Tatjana Vassiljeva is a Russian cellist with many prizes.


  1. 1 2 Olga Sobolevskaya (27 April 2007). "Mstislav Rostropovich: musician of genius, man of honor". RIA Novosti. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
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Further reading

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Richard Goode and Richard Stoltzman
Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance
Succeeded by
Juilliard String Quartet