Van Cliburn, the American pianist Time magazine dubbed "the Texan who conquered Russia," has died at his home in Fort Worth, Texas, at the age of 78.
Cliburn rose to international prominence in 1958 by winning first prize at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War. Such was the tension between the world's superpowers, competition jurors sought the approval of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev before awarding top honours to the American. Cliburn, 23, returned to the U.S. a national hero and was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
Cliburn's subsequent recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, with the RCA Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Kondrashin, was the first classical music LP to sell one million copies.
An overnight media darling, Cliburn appeared as a mystery guest on the TV show What's my Line?
Following his Tchaikovsky Competition win, Cliburn maintained a gruelling concert schedule, often giving more than 100 performances per year. He kept it up for 20 years or so, and then drastically reduced his public appearances in the late 1970s.
Cliburn's name lives on through a piano competition founded in 1962 in his native Fort Worth, and through its close association with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Watch him play the concerto's second movement in Moscow, in 1962, with Kondrashin on the podium:
Do you have a Cliburn memory to share? Let us know in the comments below.
American piano great Van Cliburn dies at 78
July 2000 article on Van Cliburn in the New York Times
In search of Van Cliburn
on Feb 27, 2013