In twentieth-century music the cello has attained a prominence above most other instruments. Never before has the cello been so popular and important for both composers and audiences. Never before have so many pieces been written for the cello. Never before have there been so many cellists. Never before has the cello spoken so eloquently and with such an enormous range of colours and expressions.
The most important figure in this "peaceful revolution" was Mstislav Rostropovich. Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Penderecki and Schnittke wrote their compositions for cello because of Rostropovich. Rostropovich developed cello technique to an enormous extent, and made the cello look and sound like a completely new instrument. The new, more horizontal way of holding the cello, new principles of fingering, the use of a higher ("Belgian"') bridge, the use of the fist in the bowing arm and very flat left hand fingers at the most powerful moments - none of these techniques had been used before on a regular basis. All of them require further research in the future. Rostropovich's innovations can be compared only with the development of stringed instruments and bows from the Baroque era to the present day. But this development took several centuries, while Rostropovich introduced new ideas and techniques over a very short period.
It is almost impossible to list all Rostropovich's students. Many of them are outstanding soloists and teachers in their own right. David Geringas is the cello professor in Berlin. Karine Georgian teaches in Manchester, Natalia Shakhovskaya in Moscow and in Madrid, Tatyana Remenikova and Vagram Saradzhyan in the USA, Ivan Monighetti - in Basel. The best German, American and British cello schools are inevitably influenced by Rostropovich through his pupils. But quite apart from formal teaching, their playing is heard all over the world and their performances shape contemporary standards of musical appreciation. Misha Maisky, Natalia Gutman, Wendy Warner, Gary Hoffmann are names familiar to audiences in many countries.
Rostropovich has increased the cello repertoire by at least one third. Twentieth-century concertos and sonatas, pieces dedicated to Rostropovich and commissioned by him, are now an essential part of cello history. Influenced by his way of playing, these works reflect a new image of the cello as an outstanding solo instrument of the twentieth century, able to compete with the violin or the piano.
Rostropovich transformed music into a network of emotional reactions, elevating the level of performance to new heights. As Dostoyevsky operated in his novels not merely with words, Rostropovich operated in music not merely with melodies, passages or strokes, but with ideas, images, and symbols.. Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in a letter to Rostropovich: "I admire your musical genius, your sun-like nature and the sincerity of your mind. At the same time, I feel worried about what you might leave in the memory of generations to come, what mark you will make in Russian history. Art for art's sake may exist anywhere except in the Russian cultural tradition. In Russia this type of art is quickly obliterated from memory. Usually, our geniuses are summoned to share in our people's woes." Rostropovich was not just a cellist, or a conductor. He was a man who felt obliged to be at the barricades in Moscow in 1991, and at the fall of the Berlin wall in 1990, who spared no effort to help his native country and suffering people all over the world. For Rostropovich history was not just an empty word, it was something always at his fingertips.
He was restless in his passionate desire to fight inertia and to learn at any age - starting in 1940s, when he worked with Myaskovsky and shortly afterwards, with Prokofiev . The last work he premiered was Largo, a Concerto by Penderecki, played by Slava at his two farewell performances as a cellist at the Vienna Muzikverein, 19 and 20 June 2005. And between the first and the last he premiered 77 new concertos, 52 new composition s for solo cello and piano, 20 new compositions for solo cello commissioned by Rostropovich himself from leading twentieth-century composers, as well as 75 orchestral works commissioned and conducted by him, and ten operas.