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13 November 2018

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Rostropovich: The Musical Life of the Great Cellist

by Elizabeth Wilson

The great cellist, conductor, teacher and humanist Mstislav Rostropovich died in 2007, just after he turned 80. Many of us knew only his second life – his artistic achievements in the West after his voluntary departure from the Soviet Union in 1974, his heroic defense of Solzhenitsyn that precipitated that departure, his impromptu performance before the crumbling Berlin Wall, his brave charge to Moscow in 1991, to stand with those who were defending the White House.

But to comprehend the second 40 years of Rostropovich’s amazing life, one really needs to learn of the first 40 years, of his rise as a musical prodigy after the Second World War, of his victory in the Tchaikovsky Cello Competition, of his teaching at the Moscow Conservatory, of his friendships and students in the music world, of his tireless travels around the Soviet Union, sharing his cello music. That tale is lovingly told in this new biography by Rostropovich’s student and friend, biographer Elizabeth Wilson.

Wilson weaves into her biographical tale her own experiences as well as firstperson interludes from students and colleagues. The result is a rich portrait of the artistic hothouse that encased Russia’s postwar music world.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Jan/Feb 2008