Hundreds of Russians came to bid final farewell Sunday to cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, who won international fame for his masterly playing and his courage in defending human rights.
Rostropovich, who fought for the rights of Soviet-era dissidents and later triumphantly played Bach suites below the crumbling Berlin Wall, died Friday at age 80. He had battled intestinal cancer.
Teary mourners flocked to the soaring gold-domed Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the banks of the Moscow River Sunday. Red-robed Orthodox priests sang mourning prayers and swung incense burners.
Somber mourners lit thin wax candles and lay flowers near the open casket, where the musician's body lay covered with a white cloth embroidered with a cross.
Rostropovich's widow, the Bolshoi Opera soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, sat by the coffin with other family members.
His passing comes soon after the death of another key figure in the country's history _ the first leader of post-Soviet Russia. Boris Yeltsin, whose mourning service was performed in the same cathedral.
Rostropovich is to be buried in the elite Novodevichy Cemetery, where the graves of his teachers Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev are located. Yeltsin also was interred there.
Guests and dignitaries at Rostropovich's funeral included Yeltsin's widow, Naina; the wife of dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natalya; Spain's Queen Sofia; French first lady Bernadette Chirac, and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliev and his wife.
President Vladimir Putin, who called the musician's death "a huge loss for Russian culture" paid his respects during a civil mourning Saturday at the Moscow Conservatory, where Rostropovich studied and played.
Rostropovich was considered by many to be the successor to Pablo Casals as the world's greatest cellist.
His sympathies against the Communist leaders of his homeland started when Shostakovich and Prokofiev were denounced during the Stalin era.
Under Leonid Brezhnev's regime, in the early 1970s, Rostropovich and his wife sheltered Solzhenitsyn in their dacha.
After Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, Rostropovich wrote an open letter to the Soviet media protesting the official vilification of the author.
The couple's fight for cultural freedom resulted in the cancellation of concerts, foreign tours and recording projects. Finally, in 1974, they fled to Paris with their two daughters. Four years later, their Soviet citizenship was revoked.
In 1989, as the Berlin Wall was being torn down, Rostropovich showed up with his cello and played Bach cello suites amid the rubble. The next year, his Soviet citizenship was restored, and he made a triumphant return to Russia to perform with Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, where he was music director from 1977 to 1994.