By Jacob Stockinger
Judging from news reports, an icon of American classical music is living out his final days.
American pianist Van Cliburn (below, in a photo taken by Ross Hailey for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram), now 78, has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer . The very consistent stories, clearly taken form the same press release, do not say whether it is Stage III or Stage IV (there is no Stage V) but the word “advanced” suggests it is one of them and is probably beyond any hope of a cure or even a long survival.
As a young pianist, Cliburn was a superstar sensation with the public, the first classical musician to sell one million LPs (of his live recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1) and the first classical musician to get $10,000 a night. Sviatoslav Richter, one of the giants of 20th century Russian pianism also thought Cliburn so gifted that he handed Cliburn all his votes to seal Cliburn’s win in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition (below).
But Cliburn has also had his detractors, critics who found his performances uneven and lazy, especially as he aged and seemed to grow bored with his art. And some people including The Ear, also wish that he had come out publicly, despite his conservative politics and apparently deep religious beliefs.
For myself, in his prime I found most of his performances very good and several of his performances stupendous, including his Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninoff Third concertos, but also his MacDowell Second Concerto.
Anyway, in an earlier post I asked: How good was Van Cliburn?
Here is a link:
And here are links to the latest story from The Associated Press about Cliburn and his diagnosis of cancer:
I don’t know if Cliburn reads The Well-Tempered Ear, but if he doesn’t now maybe he will if there are enough hits or somebody forwards it to him.
So leave a message in the COMMENTS column.
And tell us about your favorite Van Cliburn moments or performance.
One of mine is his playing of Franz Liszt’s transcription of Robert Schumann‘s song “Widmung” (Dedication) — which was a favorite encore of Cliburn in his heyday and which is meant to honor the joy, the beauty and the inspiration he provided to so many young listeners and players, including me.. (Many more such moments, including Chopin, Brahms and Debussy can be found for free on YouTube. Tear yourself and listen to a few).