Van Cliburn: A Musical Ambassador
He mesmerized Russia with his exquisite and soulful performance at the first Tchaikovsky International competition in Moscow.
It was a moment when the US held its head with pride at the height of the cold war. Van Cliburn, the classical pianist, captured the hearts of the Muscovites in April 1958, with a historic victory at the competition.
Last week, Cliburn died at his home in Fort Worth Texas, losing a battle to bone cancer at 78 years of age.
A Musical Ambassador
Young Cliburn showed potential in piano as the tender age of three. His first teacher was his mother. By age 12, Cliburn had played for the Houston symphony, a truly remarkable achievement given that every concert can have only one pianist. By 20, he was performing with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.
He was just 23 years old when he made his way to Moscow as a contestant in the prestigious Tchaikovsky piano competition. Cliburn’s sensitive piano performance made him a sensation even in the earlier rounds of the competition. Legend has it that judges met with Nikita Kuruschev – the premier of erstwhile USSR, to clear the way for Cliburn to earn the first prize for the competition.
Cliburn was greeted by a parade in New York City, the only one yet for a classical musician. He had become a cultural icon as well as a reluctant political figure. His Tchaikovsky records went on to sell more than a million copies – a record for those times. However, performances led him to burn out, while the public gave him very little opportunity to experiment beyond the pieces he was famous for. Cliburn receded from mainstream music by the 1970s.
Classical music is the art music of the Western world. It was a dominant style of music during the 18th century, and reached its height between 1750 and 1825. Classical music with its balance, clarity and proportion, is meant mainly for instrumental and concert performances. Great composers - Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Schubert and others shaped the classical music era.
While popular music such as rock, pop, jazz etc are meant to entertain, classical music was written to express an idea, emotion or theme. Many people perceive classical music to be elitist -- to be enjoyed only by the wealthy. While it is true that music of Mozart and Beethoven were enjoyed by the affluent people of their times, classical music is infact universal and for everyone.
Courtesy: NY Times, cliburn.org