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Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist, Teacher, Legend

Elizabeth Wilson

Published to coincide with Rostropovich’s 80th birthday

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Published to coincide with Rostropovich’s 80th birthday celebrations
Mstislav Rostropovich, internationally recognised as one of the world’s finest cellists and musicians, has always maintained that teaching is an important responsibility for great artists. Before his emigration in 1974 from Russia to the West, Rostropovich taught several generations of the brightest Russian talents – as Professor of the Moscow Conservatoire – over a continuous period of two decades. His students included such artists as Jacqueline du Pré, Nataliyia Gutman, Karine Georgian, Ivan Monighetti and many others

Rostropovich’s teaching represented not only his individual approach to cello repertoire and instrumental technique, but also comprised a philosophy of life. As soon as he returned from his frequent concert tours, he would launch himself with whirlwind energy into his teaching activities. His lessons, which were conducted as open masterclasses , were awaited eagerly as an event of huge importance. Class 19 of the Moscow Conservatoire, where they were held, was usually packed with students (violinists , conductors and pianists as well as cellists). Often other professors dropped in, as did visiting musicians. The lessons were performances in themselves: Rostropovich – usually seated at the piano – cajoled and inspired his students to give the best of themselves. His comments went far beyond correcting the students in making them understand the essence of the work they were playing. Often this was done through striking imagery, and as such the lessons were addressed to the wider audience present in the classroom as well as to the individual student.

Drawing from her own vivid reminiscences and those of ex-students, documents from the Moscow Conservatoire and extensive interviews with Rostropovich himself , Elizabeth Wilson’s book sets out to define his teaching, and to recapture the atmosphere of the conservatoire and Moscow’s musical life.

Critic Reviews

This book is a real treasure hoard, not just for cellists, but for anyone with an interest in the music of the past century....fascinating insights into life in communist Moscow...As a tribute to Rostropovich on his 80th birthday, this book could hardly be bettered.

Strad magazine
Critic Reviews

Books devoted to living subjects are often less noteworthy for what they contain than for what the writer has been forced to leave out. Reticence is mercifully not the most striking aspect of Wilson's warm-hearted tribute to her master cellist, and most readers, as a result, will envy the members of Class 19. The great Slava is 80 this year and this is the handsomest of birthday presents.

Jonathan Keates, Sunday Telegraph
Critic Reviews

Having already written definitive biographies of Shostakovich and Jacqueline du Pré, her Moscow Conservatoire classmate, Elizabeth Wilson completes a Moscow trilogy with this equally definitive life of her teacher. ... Her account may have its centre of gravity in Class 19 of the Conservatoire - several chapters consist of students' reminiscences - but it fills out the life-canvas in fascinating detail. ... the greatest privilege that Wilson enjoyed, as one of his favourite pupils, is what makes her account uniquely interesting. She gives an intimate portrait both of Rostropovich's teaching methods, and of Soviet musical life, with all its splendours and miseries. In the process, she sheds fascinating light on the three composers for whom this cellist was the primary conduit: Prokofiev's gratitude to his young exponent is touching; Shostakovich's reliance on him covered many years and works; and, encouraging Rostropovich and his soprano wife to set up shop in Aldeburgh, Britten found his own powers magically stimulated. Having read this book, I now listen with new ears to the classic works of the mid-20th century.

Michael Church, Independent
Critic Reviews

The book teems with entertaining anecdotes, of the tricks and new angles which he brought to bear. ... At 80, (Rostropovich) has now retired from playing, but still conducts, and this book is an engrossing read about one of the great characters of the 20th century.

Peter Spaull, Liverpool Daily Post
Critic Reviews

Any hint of hagiography is put to rest by the down-to-earth memories of his pupils, who experienced the whirlwind of his intense creativity at close quarters: teh sweat, tears, exhaustion and exaltation are memorably described.

Helen Wallace, BBC Music Magazine
Critic Reviews

(A) painstakingly researched biography ... there is ... a wealth of moving detail that moves the book beyond the hagiographical abstractions or mystifications that "legend" usually suggests. ... It is to Elizabeth Wilson's huge credit that she delivers a biography that is both musically and personally alert but also accessible and as complete as any work on a living subject can be.

Brian Morton, Sunday Herald

Elizabeth Wilson was born in London, attended schools in England, China and the USA and studied cello at the Moscow Conservatoire with Mstislav Rostropovich between 1964 and 1971. She has combined careers as performer and teacher, playing with distinguished ensembles in Britain and Europe as well as devising and presenting radio and concert series on a range of Russian themes.…

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