~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

Humility and Van Cliburn (R.I.P.)

The world lost a musical giant last week. Van Cliburn (July 12, 1934 - February 27, 2013) will forever be known for winning the very first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 (at the height of the Cold War, no less). When he returned to the United States, he was honored in New York City with a ticker tape parade. He is the only classical musician, indeed the only solo musician of any genre, to be honored in that way.

Not long after his win, he recorded Tchiakovsky's First Piano Concerto, and that album became the first classical music album in chart history to sell a million copies. To date it has sold over 3 million.

Van's first piano teacher was his mother, Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn. She was taught by Arthur Friedheim, who was a student of Franz Liszt. Franz Liszt.

Oh and his other accomplishments? They're pretty impressive, too.

But what might be the most impressive thing about Van Cliburn is his humility. Though honors flooded his way, he shirked the attention. He viewed himself as a servant in the cause of classical music. Richard Rodzinski, who presided over the The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for 20 years, related that Cliburn took the word ("servant") seriously and said, "He feels he is serving the purpose of being able to bring beautiful music as he sees it, from his garden to an audience." In 2011 Cliburn returned to the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow for the first time since his 1958 victory, this time to serve as an honorary judge. He sincerely asked his friends, "Do you really think they'll remember me?" He was mobbed in the streets.

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Dear Van: Thank you for serving. Thank you for serving the cause of classical music. Thank you for bringing your magnificent playing to the world. Your playing delights me. Your humility inspires me....Rest in peace.

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