Van Cliburn was just a pianist much the way Neil Armstrong was merely an astronaut. Simply put, the tall Texan's musical talent and successes were out of this world.
Cliburn, who died Wednesday at age 78 at his Fort Worth home due to complications from bone cancer, was 23 when he strode into Moscow for the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition, created to showcase Soviet cultural superiority.
Playing with unerring precision and sublime emotion, he took the top prize and was given a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, the first and last time a pianist won such an honor.
"Imagine galvanizing the attention of the entire world in the pre-Internet, pre-global TV year of 1958," says Howard Reich, who got to know the Texas-based pianist while researching his 1993 biography, Van Cliburn. "As a Texan, he was so emblematic of the United States. But the Russians fell in love with his romanticism."
"I can't think of anyone who has done more to help promote the instrument and young performers than Van," says Cliburn's friend Yoheved Kaplinsky, chairman of the piano department at New York's Juilliard School of Music, which Cliburn attended. "He was an icon in Fort Worth, and a person of great humility."
"Happiness and depression are both feelings, just like joy and anger. It's not feelings that give us problems. It's what we do with them that makes the difference."
"When I was 5 years old, my mom always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down happy. They told me I didn't understand the assignment and I told them they didn't understand life."
That's sad, but I'm just too happy that ZM finally posted something that didn't have to do with the UK or come from a UK site . . . I just don't know what to do. I'll cry out of sadness and joy.
This ordeal is like a fire tempering a sword. It's making chewy even tougher. If he got leprosy and his arm fell off, he'd beat the shit out of a bear, dip his stump in lemon juice and sew it back on with his good hand.
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