Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)


For Russians, music is more than an art; it is their soul and hence their politics. Just picture the ragged remnants of the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra under siege from the Nazis painfully tuning up to play Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony for radio broadcast in the darkest days of the war, or the years in which the visit of Russian players (including Rostropovich) to the West became the one bright point of contact in the bitter Cold War. Music wasn’t a substitute for life in the old Soviet Union; it was life.

Which is why Stalin took such a close and oppressive interest in it, and why figures such as Mstislav Rostropovich, who died yesterday, are so important not just to music but to history. Like his great friend and mentor, the composer Dimitri Shostakovich, Rostropovich lived through the decades of post-war oppression by Stalin and his immediate successors.

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