Russian Art

Discover the Collection of Two of the 20th Century’s Most Talented Classical Musicians

By Sotheby's

O n 28 November, Sotheby’s London will offer for sale the private collection of Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya the world-renowned golden couple of classical music. He was the world’s greatest cellist and conductor, and she was the electrifying principal soprano of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. Both were exceptional in their talents and vehement in their belief of artistic freedom. Unwillingly exiled from their beloved Soviet homeland, the couple’s inspiring story and continued legacy illustrates one of the most important triumphs of talent and moral conviction of our time.

Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya in Paris in 1976. (Photo by François LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The sale will feature over 100 lots, including furniture, personal jewelry, Russian works of art, and even musical instruments played by the maestro, and by some of the most prevalent contemporary composers and musicians of the era. Offered with an estimate in excess of £3million, the auction will present an unprecedented glimpse into the personal lives and loves of the two esteemed musicians.

Born in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1926, Vishnevskaya made her operatic debut in Leningrad in 1944 and within a few years achieved the remarkable feat of becoming one of the principal sopranos of the renowned Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Awarded People’s Artist of the USSR’ in 1966, her operatic career saw the eminent soprano perform at the world’s greatest opera houses, including La Scala,Milan; the Royal Opera House, London; and the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Taught to play the piano at the age of four by his mother and the cello at the age of eight by his father, Rostropovich’s musical career had a more conventional start. A child prodigy, he made his debut as a soloist with the orchestra at the age of 13 and in 1945 won the prestigious All-Union Soviet national competition for young musicians. Winning further prizes at international competitions confirmed Rostropovich’s destiny as a cellist and he became the youngest of a generation of great Soviet artists whose reputations preceded them in the West.

A passionate advocate of human rights, Rostropovich became famous throughout the Western world for his intense opposition to censorship in the arts. Openly condemning the suppression of artistic freedom, the musician came into conflict with the Soviet authorities, eventually leading to his and his family’s emigration and what would become a 16 year exile from their homeland. Stripped of their Soviet citizenship in 1978 they lived between their homes in London and Paris, only returning to Russia after the collapse of Communism. The family’s Russian citizenship was reinstated in 1990, with President Vladimir Putin awarding Rostropovich the Order of Service to the Fatherland shortly before his death in 2007.

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