Well, OK, he's not exactly a household name - in most households, anyway - but in classical music circles he was pretty well known. Rostropovich was a Russian, born in Azerbaijan, who became the best-known living cellist and was also director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. He died on April 27, age 80.
Sometimes in the abortion debate, the pro-lifers will say something like, "What if Beethoven had been aborted? We would never have had his music!" Which is true, but I've never used the argument, myself; I'm not quite prepared to say that aborting a Beethoven is worse than aborting a sheet metal worker or even a used car salesman. Our worth derives from our fact of existence, not from our utility.
Nevertheless, it was interesting to me to read a reminiscence in the Wall Street Journal that was published shortly after Rostropovich's death [May 5 issue, available online only to subscribers]. The author recounted an interview he once had with the muscian, in which he discussed the circumstances of the latter's birth:
In a 2002 interview in New York, he told me in his idiosyncratic, richly accented English that his mother, a peripatetic pianist and conservatory professor, had tried to abort him because she felt that a second child would be too great a burden. "Like confession," Rostropovich said, "my mother tell me one day, 'Excuse me, my son, but I'm sorry.' She asked very famous gynecology professor not for operation, but something liquid to get rid of me from inside. But I stay in there!"
In fact Rostropovich's mother carried him for 10 months, and years later he used to joke with her, "Mother, you had me for extra month. Why not make for me a beautiful face?" And Mother always smile and say, 'My son, I was too busy making you beautiful hands!'"
I guess she was glad the potion didn't work.