Full Name: Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr.

NickName: “Van”

Description: Pianist, USA

Known For: It was his recognition in Moscow that propelled Cliburn to international fame.

Instruments: Piano

Music Styles: Classical music

Location: Shreveport, Louisiana, United States of America

Date Born: 12th July 1934
Location Born: Shreveport, Louisiana, United States of America

Date Died: 27th February 2013
Location Died: Fort Worth, Texas, United States of America

Web Site:  cliburn.org , the official website of the Van Cliburn Foundation

Other Links: See below:



Van Cliburn

Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn, Jr., (July 12, 1934 – February 27, 2013) was an American pianist who achieved worldwide recognition in 1958, at the age of 23, when he won the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War

His mother, an accomplished pianist who had studied under a student of Franz Liszt, discovered him playing at age three, mimicking one of her students, and began his lessons.
He developed a rich, round tone and a singing voice-like phrasing, having been taught early on to sing each piece.

Van Cliburn toured domestically and overseas. He played for royalty and heads of state, and every president from Eisenhower to Obama. He was the first classical recording artist to have an album, his recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, sold more than 1 million copies.

Van Cliburn was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and began taking piano lessons at the age of three from his mother, the former Rildia Bee O’Bryan, who, in turn, had been instructed by Arthur Friedheim, a pupil of Franz Liszt. At six years old, Cliburn’s oilman father returned the family to Kilgore, Texas, and at twelve he won a statewide piano competition which enabled him to debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

He entered the Juilliard School at the age of seventeen, and studied under Rosina Lhévinne, who trained him in the tradition of the great Russian romantics. At twenty, Cliburn won the Leventritt Award, and made his Carnegie Hall debut.

It was his recognition in Moscow that propelled Cliburn to international fame. The first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 was an event designed to demonstrate Soviet cultural superiority during the Cold War, on the heels of their technological victory with the Sputnik launch in October 1957. Cliburn’s performance at the competition finale of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 earned him a standing ovation lasting eight minutes.

When it was time to announce a winner, the judges were obliged to ask permission of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to give first prize to an American. “Is he the best?” Khrushchev asked. “Then give him the prize!” Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time the honor has been accorded a classical musician. His cover story in Time proclaimed him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia”.


Upon returning to the United States, Cliburn appeared in a Carnegie Hall concert with the Symphony of the Air, conducted by Kirill Kondrashin, who had led the Moscow Philharmonic in the prize-winning performances in Moscow. The performance of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto at this concert was subsequently released by RCA Victor on both LP and CD. Cliburn was also invited by Steve Allen to play a solo during Allen’s prime time NBC television program on April 14, 1958.

RCA Victor signed him to an exclusive contract, and his subsequent recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 became the first classical album to go platinum. It was the best-selling classical album in the world for more than a decade, eventually going triple-platinum. Cliburn won the 1958 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance for this recording. In 2004, this recording was re-mastered from the original studio analogue tapes, and released in the highest quality ever on high-resolution Super Audio CD.

Other famous concerti Cliburn recorded include the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor, Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 and No. 5 “Emperor”, and the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3.

In 1958, during a dinner hosted by the National Guild of Piano Teachers,President and Founder Dr. Irl Allison announced a cash prize of $10,000 to be used for a piano competition named in Van Cliburn’s honor. Under the leadership of Grace Ward Lankford and with the dedicated efforts of local music teachers and volunteers, the First Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was held September 24-October 7, 1962 at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Until his death, Cliburn continued to serve as Director Emeritus for the Van Cliburn Foundation, as host of the quadrennial competition and host of other programs honoring his legacy.

Cliburn returned to the Soviet Union on several occasions.His performances were usually recorded and even televised. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Cliburn’s affection for the Soviet people—and theirs for him—was notable in its warmth during a prolonged period of superpower strain.” A videotape of his 1958 performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Kirill Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra documents that Premier Khrushchev was in the audience, joining in the enthusiastic applause.

A 1972 concert performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with Kondrashin and the Moscow orchestra, as well as a studio recording of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, were later issued on CD by RCA Victor.

On May 26, 1972, Cliburn gave a concert at Spaso House, the residence of the United States Ambassador to Russia, for an audience which included President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State William P. Rogers, and Soviet government officials.


Cliburn performed and recorded through the 1970s, but in 1978, after the deaths of his father and manager, began a hiatus from public life. In 1987, he was invited to perform at the White House for President Ronald Reagan and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, and afterward was invited to open the 100th anniversary season of Carnegie Hall.

He embarked on a 16-city tour in 1994, commencing with a performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto at the Hollywood Bowl. Also in 1994, Cliburn made a guest appearance in the cartoon Iron Man, playing himself in the episode “Silence My Companion, Death My Destination”. In his late seventies he gave a limited number of performances to critical and popular acclaim. Cliburn appeared as a Pennington Great Performers series artist with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra in 2006. He played for royalty and heads of state from dozens of countries, and for every U.S. President from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama

Cliburn received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2001. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003 by President George W. Bush, and, in October 2004, the Russian Order of Friendship, the highest civilian awards of the two countries. He was also awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the same year and played at a surprise 50th birthday party for United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He was a member of the Alpha Chi Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and was awarded the fraternity’s Charles E. Lutton Man of Music Award in 1962. He was presented a 2010 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.

Personal life

In 1998, Cliburn was named in a lawsuit by his domestic partner of seventeen years, mortician Thomas Zaremba. In the suit, Zaremba claimed entitlement to a portion of Cliburn’s income and assets and went on to charge that he might have been exposed to HIV, claiming emotional distress. The claims were denied by a trial court and that decision was then affirmed by an appellate court, in holding that palimony suits are not permitted in the state of Texas unless the relationship is based on a written agreement.

Cliburn was known as a night owl. He often practiced until 4:30 or 5 a.m., waking around 1:30 p.m. “You feel like you’re alone and the world’s asleep, and it’s very inspiring.”

Cliburn, a member of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, attended regularly when he was in town.

On August 27, 2012, Van Cliburn’s publicist announced that the pianist had advanced bone cancer. He underwent treatment and was “resting comfortably at home” in Fort Worth, Texas, where he received around-the-clock care. Cliburn died on February 27, 2013.

The Wall Street Journal said on his death that Cliburn was a “cultural hero” who “rocketed to unheard-of stardom for a classical musician in the U.S.” Cliburn became the first classical musician to have an album sell one million copies with his 1958 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Calling him “the rare classical musician to enjoy rock star status”, the Associated Press on his death noted the 1958 Time magazine cover story that likened him to “Horowitz, Liberace and Presley all rolled into one”.

Works by Van Cliburn

Piano concerto no. 1 in B-flat minor, op. 23 by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky ( Recording )
36 editions published between 1958 and 2004 in 3 languages and held by 965 libraries worldwide
Piano concerto no. 3 in D minor, op. 30 by Sergei Rachmaninoff ( Recording )
10 editions published between 1959 and 2005 in No Linguistic content and English and held by 503 libraries worldwide
My favorite Chopin by Freìdeìric Chopin ( Recording )
11 editions published between 1961 and 1998 in 3 languages and held by 452 libraries worldwide
1: Polonaise, Op. 53 “Heroic” 6:52; 2: Nocturne, Op. 62, No.1 7:02; 3: Fantaisie. Op. 49 12:09; 4: Etude, Op. 25, No.11 “Winter Wind/Sturm/Vent d’hiver” 3:27; 5: Etude, Op. 10, No.3 4:43; 6: Ballade No. 3, Op. 47 7:22; 7: Waltz. Op. 64, No. 2 3:17; 8: Scherzo No. 3, Op. 39 7:12; 9: Barcarolle, Op. 60 9:21; 10: Waltz, Op. 64, No. 1 “Minute” 1:50. Concerto no. 2 in B-flat, op. 83 by Johannes Brahms ( Recording )
15 editions published between 1962 and 2003 in 3 languages and held by 429 libraries worldwide
Concerto no. 5 in E-flat, op. 73 Emperor by Ludwig van Beethoven ( Recording )
7 editions published between 1961 and 1994 and held by 405 libraries worldwide
Piano concerto in A minor, op. 54 by Robert Schumann ( Recording )
17 editions published between 1960 and 2007 in 3 languages and held by 396 libraries worldwide
Van Cliburn in Moscow by Sergei Rachmaninoff ( Recording )
5 editions published between 1971 and 1994 in No Linguistic content and Undetermined and held by 395 libraries worldwide
Sonata no. 26, op. 81a (Les adieux) by Ludwig van Beethoven ( Recording )
5 editions published in 1966 in No Linguistic content and English and held by 327 libraries worldwide
The world’s favorite piano music by Van Cliburn ( Recording )
7 editions published between 1972 and 1992 and held by 280 libraries worldwide
Concerto no. 1, in D minor, op. 15 by Johannes Brahms ( Recording )
7 editions published between 1964 and 1990 in No Linguistic content and English and held by 268 libraries worldwide.