April 14, 2018

Van Cliburn & Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, 60 years on

Van Cliburn - 1959 

On April 14, 1958, sixty years ago today, Van Cliburn won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow for his performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. That was quite a feat back then, a shock to the Russians as well as a boost to the moral of the United States (link below).       

When it was time to announce the winner, the judges were obliged to ask permission of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to give first prize to an American. "Is he the best?" Khrushchev asked. "Then give him the prize!"    

Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time the honor has been accorded a classical musician. Arriving at City Hall after the parade, Cliburn told the audience:
"I appreciate more than you will ever know that you are honoring me, but the thing that thrills me the most is that you are honoring classical music. Because I'm only one of many. I'm only a witness and a messenger. Because I believe so much in the beauty, the construction, the architecture invisible, the importance for all generations, for young people to come that it will help their minds, develop their attitudes, and give them values. That is why I'm so grateful that you have honored me in that spirit." 
A cover story in the American weekly news magazine, Time, proclaimed him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia".    

I know I will never forget the day he won and that day in New York City. It seems impossible that it happened sixty years ago; it seems like only yesterday.   

Van Cliburn with his mother - 1966
 photographer unknown

RCA Victor signed him to an exclusive contract, and his subsequent recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 won the 1958 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance. It was certified a gold record in 1961, and it became the first classical album to go platinum, achieving that certification in 1989. It was the best-selling classical album in the world for more than a decade, eventually going triple-platinum. In 2004, this recording was re-mastered from the original studio analogue tapes.    

Cliburn received the Kennedy Center Honors on December 2, 2001. He was awa rded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on July 23, 2003 by President George W. Bush, and, on September 20, 2004, the Russian Order of Friendship, the highest civilian awards of the two countries.       

 September 20, 2004

An interantional competition presented every four years has been establish in his name, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, in Fort Worth, Texas.   

On August 27, 2012, Cliburn's publicist announced that the pianist had advanced prostate cancer with widespread bone metastases. He underwent treatment and was "resting comfortably at home" in Fort Worth, where he received around-the-clock care. Cliburn died on February 27, 2013, at the age of seventy-eight.          

The Wall Street Journal said on his death that Cliburn was a "cultural hero" who "rocketed to unheard-of stardom for a classical musician in the U.S." Calling him "the rare classical musician to enjoy rock star status", the Associated Press on his death noted the 1958 Time magazine cover story that likened him to "Horowitz, Liberace, and Presley all rolled into one".       

A street in the Cultural District of the city of Fort Worth, Texas, has been named after him, Van Cliburn Way.      

 Van Cliburn Way, Fort Worth Cultural District

There is a 1972 Russian documentary entitled In the World of Sound (В мире звуков. Играет Ван Клиберн) captures Cliburn's 1972 tour in the country. Directed by Viktor Okuntsov, it has studio footage of Cliburn playing Debussy and Chopin; walking around Pavlovsk Palace, Saint Petersburg; being interviewed; having makeup applied; listening to his recording of the Mephisto Waltz by Liszt; and enjoying himself and participating in events. It also includes brief interviews with Ivan Kozlovsky, Innokenty Smoktunovsky and Kirill Kondrashin, as well as many shots of people and places. Below is a list of some of the highlights of the film.   

Viewfinder links:        
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky        
Net links:        
Van Cliburn discography       
NY Times obit         
Washington Post obit        
LA Times obit         
Gramophone UK obit       
YouTube links:        
      Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 1 - Moscow video 1958  
      Russians Conquered My Heart    
      In the World of Sound - documentary film     
          03:46 - Chopin Nocturne op. 62 no. 2
          11:00 - Pavlovsk Palace
          14:29 - Debussy La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune
          19:51 - Chopin Heroic Polonaise op. 53        
          27:58 - listening to his recording of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz
          31:06 - giving an interview with a translator
          38:13 - Ivan Kozlovsky 38:37 - Innokenty Smoktunovsky
          39:32 - Kirill Kondrashin
          40:57 - laying flowers at the Tchaikovsky monument       
Van Cliburn and the Cold War  
Styrous® ~ Saturday, April 14, 2018       


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