The great classical pianist Van Cliburn has died at the age of 78. He became an American icon and cold war hero without firing a shot:
In April 1958, Mr. Cliburn went to Moscow at the height of the Cold
War and brought home the gold medal in the new Tchaikovsky International
Piano Competition for his rendition of the composer’s Concerto No. 1.
The contest had been established to showcase the Russian superiority in
culture, a mere six months after the scientific triumph of launching
Sputnik, the first space satellite.
Mr. Cliburn’s performance —
the crystalline touch, the welling songfulness — prompted an
eight-minute standing ovation. But such were the political tensions of
the time, the judges of the competition checked with Soviet Premier
Nikita Khrushchev before announcing their decision to give the prize to a
“Is he the best?” Khrushchev is said to have replied. “Then give him the prize!”
And Nikita knew from long-hair music. Maybe not, he was a short, squat and bald prole after all…
Here’s Van the man tickling the ivories: