Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Genius of the Cello

Scenes from the BBC documentary
Rostropovich: Genius of the Cello
"But because we suffer..."
"Of course we know our father's voice."
"They were chalk and cheese, but their relationship was
surprisingly close."
Re-experiencing the Shostakovich cello concerto premiere.
Xavier Phillips on Rostropovich's ideal endless bow.
"He would kiss anything he could kiss."
The 301-401 group of the evening division will see this film over the next couple of classes. I hope you will like it--and if you are not already familiar with Rostropovich, you will look for more music by this amazing man and his "three kings," Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Britten.

Here are the discussion questions we will be using. You can see the film itself online--see the bottom of this page. However, in class, we will use a version that has subtitles.
  1. Why are cellists more beautiful, according to Mstislav Rostropovich?
  2. What do cellists do better than violinists and pianists?
  3. What experience does Rostropovich's daughter Elena report concerning the radio?
  4. When he plays quietly, what happens to the people in the concert hall?
  5. Three famous composers wrote music for Rostropovich. Who were they? What does he anticipate will happen after he dies?
  6. On August 21, 1968, during the Soviet Union's intervention in Czechoslovakia, what was the question facing the concert organizers at the Royal Albert Hall? What did M.R.'s wife say happened at the start of the concert?
  7. According to the narrator, what is special about the cello?
  8. Why was Prague important in Rostropovich's life? (Three reasons at least!)
  9. When asked about his four-day courtship of his wife Galina, what was his response?
  10. Mischa Maisky wasn't playing Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations, especially the change from C-minor to C-major,  to Rostropovich's satisfaction. What "cure" did he advise Maisky to use?
  11. How did he understand the use of the bow? What toy did he use to explain his ideal bow? What is the bow's weak point?
  12. What did Rostropovich do especially well, according to the conductor Seiji Ozawa?
  13. When applying to the Soviet authorities to let his wife accompany him on overseas concert tours, he gave an unusual explanation. How was it different?
  14. Why was Prokofiev criticized by Soviet critics?
  15. What was the first risk that Rostropovich took in his career?
  16. According to Xavier Phillips, what is the risk involved with meeting an idol? In his own case, what happened? How did he describe Rostropovich?
  17. Awaiting their master class, how did the students know that Rostropovich was near? What were the first two signs? What does "on tenterhooks" mean?
  18. Why did Rostropovich say that there's no shame in weeping from Rakhmaninov's music? What, apparently, was Natalya Gutman's problem?
  19. What was the meaning of analogy of the beautiful suitcase?
  20. In what ways did Rostropovich express his love of life?
  21. Why was the discovery of Haydn's cello concerto in C so important, according to Rostropovich? What will he do when he gets to heaven?
  22. Seiji Ozawa uses the metaphor of "soldier" to describe Rostropovich's mission upon receiving a new cello score. His collaboration with which composer illustrated this mission? What very unusual sort of meeting did they have? Why did the narrator say that these two men were like "chalk and cheese"?
[break at 44:46]
  1. What was unusual about Rostropovich's fingers? What problems did Rostropovich avoid by having such sensitive fingers?
  2. What was it like to be a teenage daughter with Rostropovich for a father? What did he do with their new jeans?
  3. Why was Henri Dutilleux worried three weeks before the premiere of his new work for cello?
  4. Why did Rostropovich play every work written for him at least once? Were they all masterpieces? What did he think would happen eventually?
  5. What was Benjamin Britten's reaction to Rostropovich's playing? How did it affect him personally?
  6. How did Rostropovich introduce and explain his guest Alexander Solzhenitsyn to his daughters?
  7. According to Rostropovich, what was the best step he ever took in his life?
  8. What was Witold Lutoslawski describing in the cello concerto that he wrote for Rostropovich at the start of Rostropovich's troubles? What do the brass entries represent?
  9. Rostropovich played Bach's Sarabande as the encore at the famous concert of August 21, 1968. What was his attitude about this piece and its performance in public? What happened when Chionofuji's daughter died?
  10. How did Rostropovich get into Russia without a visa? What was Galina's response to this adventure?
  11. What image did Rostropovich use to express the idea that he would now help a young cellist, Xavier Phillips, to play with the insight and weight of an older musician?

Rostropovich: Genius of the Cello HQ from Vaughan Matthews on Vimeo.

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