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Pianist Van Cliburn loses battle with bone cancer, dies at age 78

By John Terauds on February 27, 2013

Van Cliburn Foundation, Texas pianist Van Cliburn performs to a packed audience in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in Moscow, Russia, in April 1958 during the first International Tchaikovsky Competition, which he won.
The 23-year-old Texas pianist Van Cliburn performs to a packed audience in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in April 1958 during the first International Tchaikovsky Competition, which he won (Van Cliburn Foundation photo).

American pianist Van Cliburn, who was diagnosed with bone cancer last August, died this morning at his home in Fort Worth, Tex. He was 78.

Thanks to winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow — an American on Cold War enemy soil — Cliburn became a huge star in his 20s, much in the way that Lang Lang is today.

He leaves behind an immense legacy, including the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, considered to be one of the world’s finest. He was also one of the rare Americans to continue to reach behind the old Iron Curtain and perform in the former Soviet Union.

Anthony Tommasini has written an excellent, detailed obituary for The New York Times here.

Here is Cliburn playing Franz Liszt’s B minor Sonata at the Moscow Conservatory in 1960:

John Terauds

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