Van Cliburn Dies

Who is, or who was, the greatest American composer? Who is, or who was the greatest American conductor? Reasonable minds can differ on these questions. However, the question who was the most famous American pianist ever seems to be rather easy so answer. Van Cliburn gained world fame overnight in 1958, when he took the first price at the first Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. His success was so much more sensational because the United States and the Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War at the time. Right after the competition, TIME Magazine printed the photo of then 23-year-old Van Cliburn on its cover page, labeling the young pianist "The Texan Who Conquered Russia." The Van Cliburn Piano Competition in Texas, which was named after him, is probably the most important piano competition in the United States, and Van Cliburn played in front of every U.S. President starting with Harry Truman. Now (February 27), Van Cliburn died at the age of 78 after a bout with cancer. Georg Hirsch describes the man, who was not only familiar to afficionados of classical music.

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