Van Cliburn

Classical pianist

At the height of the Cold War, even a piano could be an instrument in the great contest between East and West. That was the lesson of the victory of 23-year-old Van Cliburn in the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. A beanpole Texan with hands that spanned 12 keys, Cliburn, who died Feb. 27, instantly became a celebrity far beyond the classical-music world. A huge hit with the Russian people--his win had been secretly okayed by Nikita Khrushchev--he was welcomed home with a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. Yet though he was a greatly gifted musician, Cliburn's early stardom may have...

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