How beloved was Van Cliburn in the early days of his career? In its expansive obituary of the acclaimed pianist, who died today, the New York Times notes that when the 23-year-old Cliburn returned to New York in 1958 after winning the inaugural 1958 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, he was given a ticker-tape parade in Lower Manhattan “with about 100,000 people lining the streets and cheering, never before done for a classical musician.”
Amazing. (You have to remember that this was the height of the Cold War, and Cliburn’s win was seen as a victory for Western culture over Communism.)
Cliburn’s early promise didn’t quite pan out, and the pianist — bogged down by the pressure of achieving such great success so early in his career — and he retired in 1978. (Updated: Here’s a link to an obituary from Cliburn’s hometown newspaper, the Fort Worth Star Telegram.)
His name will always be associated with great piano music, however, through the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which is held every four years.