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Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-07)

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Mstislav Rostropovich was a very great Russian cellist. His name is quite difficult to say and spell. But he had a nickname - 'Slava'.

He first learnt to play the piano with his mother before being taught to play the cello by his father. His father was himself a very accomplished cellist who had been taught by Pablo Casals.

When he was sixteen years old, Rostropovich started to study at the Moscow Conservatory. There he learnt not only cello but also piano, conducting and composition.

Rostropovich won many competitions. Many composers wrote pieces especially for him (including Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten). But Rostropovich opposed the Communist regime of the Soviet Union and so the government made life difficult for him. He wasn't allowed to give concerts abroad and in 1974 he left the Soviet Union to live in America.

All his life Rostropovich fought for freedom and democracy. This is a photograph of Rostropovich performing Bach's Cello Suites at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. (The Berlin Wall separated East Germany from West Germany and people from East Germany weren't allowed to cross into West Germany. In November 1989, crowds of East Germans climbed onto and crossed the wall and they were joined by West Germans on the other side. Over the next few weeks, parts of the wall were chipped away. Germany became one country again in 1990.)

This is what Rostropovich said about learning a new piece of music:
"I not touch my cello. I read music so that it sounds in my head. If I try to play music first, technical difficulties come in the way. First I must understand what music is about, which ideas, what feelings are there. Then, most important, where climax is. As soon as I understand this I take my cello and play with many faults. After this I make fingerings and bowings."