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In praise of ... Mstislav Rostropovich

The Guardian's Leader puts the death, yesterday, of that wonderful cellist and humanitarian, Mstislav Rostropovich, in the exact context in which his passing ought to be viewed:

"What is it about the cello that makes its very finest practitioners into moral exemplars for mankind? All that can be said is that through the many miseries of 20th century Europe, first Pau Casals and then Mstislav Rostropovich stood out as towering musical personalities who made their instrument sing of loss, hope and freedom. It was Casals who brought the cello literature, particularly that of Bach, in from the neglected margins of classical music. It was Rostropovich who ensured it would remain there, inspiring compositions from Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Gubaidulina and many more. Both gave epochal performances of the greatest of all cello concertos in the most testing of circumstances: Casals was airlifted from besieged Barcelona in 1937 to Prague to make a defining recording of the Dvorak concerto, while a weeping Rostropovich gave an emotionally charged London performance of the same work as the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. Casals did not live to see Catalonia and Spain emerge from the tyranny of Franco. But Rostropovich did not merely live to see Russia throw off the tyranny of communism, he also played a decisive part in making it happen. Rostropovich, who died yesterday aged 80, was a life force. His energy and generosity were irresistible. He was always ready to do something new, in life or in music. If ever a man lived every minute that was allotted to him, it was he. When comes such another, either as cellist or human being?"


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