I mentioned in an earlier entry that Vladimir Horowitz was one of my first heroes of the piano. Van Cliburn was the other.
Cliburn was born in 1934 in Schreveport, Louisiana. He began taking piano lessons at age three from his mother, who was his only teacher until he entered Juilliard in 1951, where he studied with the renowned Rosina Lhévinne. After winning the prestigious Leventritt Award and making his Carnegie Hall debut in 1954, Cliburn famously captured the gold medal at the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. He returned home to a hero’s welcome and a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
I had the good fortune to hear Cliburn in person on three occasions. The first was in 1964, at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. He played an exceptionally demanding program, including Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, Chopin’s Sonata No. 3, and the Sonata Op. 26 by Samuel Barber.
The second time was in 1965 in Denver, where his program included Prokofiev’s epic Sixth Sonata. I managed to speak with him after both recitals, and he could not have been more gracious. Both the Barber and Prokofiev sonatas have since become great favorites of mine; I hope to feature them in future installments of this blog.
When I first discovered classical music, I listened to Cliburn’s recordings of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 over and over. Between his recitals and his recordings, he exerted a strong influence on my nascent musical preferences.
It is that same concerto by Rachmaninoff that we hear in this video, which dates from 1972. Kiril Kondrashin conducts the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.