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The pianist Van Cliburn has died
February 27, 2013 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Van Cliburn, the internationally celebrated classical pianist whose triumph at a 1958 Moscow competition helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular career. has passed away in Texas today at age 78.
posted by Seekerofsplendor (41 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by glhaynes at 10:59 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by Iridic at 11:01 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by jquinby at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2013



posted by Fizz at 11:04 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by Thorzdad at 11:07 AM on February 27, 2013


Oh.

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posted by crush-onastick at 11:07 AM on February 27, 2013


Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.
posted by Iridic at 11:15 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by gyc at 11:17 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by From Bklyn at 11:21 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by brieche at 11:26 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by mountmccabe at 11:27 AM on February 27, 2013



posted by inturnaround at 11:29 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by oneironaut at 11:43 AM on February 27, 2013


Rest in peace.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:48 AM on February 27, 2013


My knowledge of Van Cliburn, aside from recordings that my mom had, were from the International Amateur Piano Competition held annually in Texas in 1999.

My oldest brother competed three times and won in 2002. From his words, it was a real treat. He made a point of flying our mom in to attend the performances - she was a very accomplished pianist in her own right - and very entertaining to hear my mom critiquing the performances. She had a tremendous ear.

At any rate, you can find some videos of the competition here as well as notes and recordings from my brother's performance in 1999 and his performance in 2000.
posted by plinth at 11:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by fremen at 11:54 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by Renoroc at 11:57 AM on February 27, 2013


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posted by Doohickie at 12:00 PM on February 27, 2013


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posted by Wemmick at 12:01 PM on February 27, 2013


All I really knew about Van Cliburn for a long time was that he used to show up on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" once in a while, sometimes playing accompanyment for "Officer" Clemmons, the opera singer.
posted by briank at 12:05 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh christ. My folks took me to watch and listen to him perform in Fort Worth in the 1980s when I was but a young item. Though I couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 years old, I remember the concert being made up to be a huge event as he wasn't making many public appearances at the time. We had good seats, and because of this I was able to be enthralled by his dramatic flair, something that stuck with me for years and years to come. This eventually helped contribute to forming a dream of entertaining crowds with showmanship as much as with musical talent.

Go, Van Cliburn, go.
posted by item at 12:08 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite tidbits about the Tchaikovsky competition that Cliburn won: " rumors ensured that the panel of judges had already selected Russian pianist Lev Vlasenko as the winner, attempting to placate Russian political leaders with a show of national pride. Fearing Khrushchev's reaction, several members of the competition's jury "boycotted" Cliburn, giving him scores of 15, 16, and 19 (on a 0-25 scale) despite a flawless performance. However, Richter and others discovered the bias in scoring and in order to balance the final tallies, awarded Van Cliburn with scores of 25 while giving his competitors zero points. When questioned about his idiosyncratic scoring, Richter replied: "People either make music or they don't." "
posted by gyc at 12:17 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by klausness at 12:18 PM on February 27, 2013


I remember him from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood too. Does anybody find Dave Brubeck's piano playing on Blue Rondo a la Turk reminiscent of Van Cliburn?
posted by jonp72 at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2013




As a kid I always thought his entire last name was Van Cliburn, à la Hillary Van Doren or something like that. After seeing him on Mr. Rogers, I kept asking my parents what his first name was.

And I think he was on "To Tell The Truth" once, where they showed his mother-effing HUGE hands up close.
posted by Melismata at 12:49 PM on February 27, 2013


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posted by Hanuman1960 at 12:54 PM on February 27, 2013



posted by Smart Dalek at 1:23 PM on February 27, 2013


♫ He will be missed. ♫
posted by RussHy at 1:26 PM on February 27, 2013



posted by Elly Vortex at 1:46 PM on February 27, 2013


As a freshman in 1967 I went into the library listening lab at the University of Texas to kill time. I clicked around until, by chance, I landed on Van Cliburn's 1958 recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. I didn't exactly know what it was but I listened anyway. It was the first (but definitely not the last) time I cried at a piece of music. Somewhat disturbing though for an adolescent Texas male of the period...
posted by jim in austin at 1:52 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by mothershock at 2:10 PM on February 27, 2013


The Cliburn Competition is one of the greatest things about Texas. It made me fall back in love with classical music.

The world shines a little less brightly and the music is a little less dolce.
posted by 26.2 at 2:20 PM on February 27, 2013


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posted by ersatz at 3:31 PM on February 27, 2013


I am actually very much NOT a fan of his recording of Rach 2 (no offense, Iridic), but here is the 1958 Cliburn/Kondrashin/RCA recording of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 in b-flat minor, the concerto for which he won the Tchaikovsky Competition that year.

(While looking for it on YouTube I also found this documentary clip about Kondrashin which contains a snippet of Van Cliburn's performance at the competition itself.)
posted by Westringia F. at 4:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unlike Bobby Fisher (sp?) Van got out of the cold-war spotlight quickly enough to keep his sanity.

Interesting trivia: One of the judges at his performance, Russian virtuoso Sviatoslav Richter, gave him 100 points out a possible 10.

Another trivia (can't remember who I'm quoting): There are three types of virtuoso pianist: Jewish, gay, and bad.
posted by Twang at 4:30 PM on February 27, 2013


I'm not sure, btw, that it's fair to say that his success in the 1958 competition "launched a spectacular career." Many would argue that it was in fact the opposite -- that it was the peak of his career, rather than its launch.

In fact, the very NYT article linked in the FPP says as much:
But if the Tchaikovsky competition represented Mr. Cliburn’s breakthrough, it also turned out to be his undoing. Relying inordinately on his keen musical instincts, he was not an especially probing artist, and his growth was stalled by his early success. Audiences everywhere wanted to hear him in his prizewinning pieces, the Tchaikovsky First Concerto and the Rachmaninoff Third. Every American town with a community concert series wanted him to come play a recital.
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His subsequent explorations of wider repertory grew increasingly insecure. During the 1960s he played less and less. By 1978 he had retired from the concert stage; he returned in 1989, but performed rarely. Ultimately, his promise and potential were never fulfilled. But the extent of his talent was apparent early on.
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Yet as early as 1959 his attempts to broaden his repertory were not well received.
[Summary of bad reviews, 1959-1962.] Despite the criticism, Mr. Cliburn tried to expand his repertory, playing concertos by MacDowell and Prokofiev and solo works by Samuel Barber (the demanding Piano Sonata), Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven and Liszt. But the artistic growth and maturity that were expected of him never fully came.
There's no question that he achieved musical successes that few of us ever will, and that he held -- and will always hold -- a significant place in the cultural history of the Cold War. Sadly, though, what followed his initial fame was also in part a painful story of unfulfilled promise in the public spotlight.

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posted by Westringia F. at 4:43 PM on February 27, 2013


plinth: "My knowledge of Van Cliburn, aside from recordings that my mom had, were from the International Amateur Piano Competition held annually in Texas in 1999."

I was at the 1999 competition to see my cousin play! (Not her '99 performance - I don't think they were doing video just yet.) I always loved the title of the competition: International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs (emphasis mine) as I feel it captured the spirit, so well, of the breadth, talent, aptitude and passion of all the performers. I've been to more than just the '99 competition but there was truly something magical about that first year. As my cousin said to me earlier this evening: "We lost a giant today."
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:43 PM on February 27, 2013


The great gift of Van Cliburn: The pianist's early technique didn't last, but his generosity lingers. L.A. benefited.
posted by homunculus at 5:48 PM on February 27, 2013


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posted by TrialByMedia at 8:47 PM on February 27, 2013


Van Cliburn's _My Favorite Chopin_ has been my go-to recording for decades. Sad. But what a great life to have had.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:09 AM on February 28, 2013


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posted by koucha at 7:46 AM on February 28, 2013


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