Rostropovich in Vézelay

Cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich was born in Azerbaijan, in 1927. In his long and very successful career, Rostropovich became renowned not only as one of the greatest instrumentalists of the 20th century but also as an outspoken champion of artistic freedom in the Soviet Union during the last decades of the cold war.

In 1995, at age 63,  Rostropovich decided the time had come to record the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, which are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello. Most likely written between 1717–1723, the suites contain a great variety of technical challenges, but it is their intimacy that has made the suites amongst Bach’s most popular works today.

Recording of the complete Bach Suites 
Rostropovich considered these suites the crowning glory of the cello’s literature. I have been listening to the cd’s since their release but it wasn’t until yesterday that I purchased the dvd’s, and they are equally impressive.

Rostropovich chose as a recording site, the Basilique Sainte-Madeleine, in the Burgundian village of Vézelay, France, because of the church’s perfect acoustics. He also felt inspired by the simplicity of its architecture. The recordings were produced and edited by himself. To maintain total control, he also paid for the sessions so that if he were dissatisfied, he would be free to destroy them.


Basilique Sainte-Madeleine, Vézelay, France
Built in the 9th century, the Benedictine abbey of Vézelay has been an important place of pilgrimage. Saint Bernard preached the Second Crusade there in 1146, and Richard the Lion-Hearted and Philip II Augustus met there to leave for the Third Crusade in 1190. With its sculpted capitals and portal, the Madeleine of Vézelay – a 12th-century monastic church – is a masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque art and architecture.