Earliest Van Cliburn video?

Earliest Van Cliburn video?


norman lebrecht

June 09, 2019

This has just popped up on Youtube.

Amazingly fresh, from 1953.

The conductor is Jean Morel.



  • adista says:

    He burned out quick, but listen to his live 1960 Rachmaninoff second sonata and you realize he really was that good

    • Wladek says:

      He did not burn out quick as as much as he was
      extremely limited and had very little to say
      musically. Much like a one trick pony..what tricks it could do well it did very well.After the community
      concerts tour he was about done with and the fame
      that followed had very little to do with music.

      • @Wladek: Much of what you say is true. But he did have very much to say musically within the limits of the repertoire he chose to play. You say as much so yourself, but I take objection to your choice of the work “tricks” to describe his performances.

        Of course, there were much greater pianists/musicians around at the time Van Cliburn was in his heyday (Leon Fleisher, William Kappell and Julius Katchen come to mind, regarding the USA-born pianists), but there was something very special about the way Van Cliburn unabashedly communicated directly from his heart at the piano. Obviously, this approach cannot please all of the people all of the time, but it remains very special to those who were touched by it.

        And he did burn out, obviously. The flame that burns the brightest is often the one to extinguish first. But I think the insane touring he did (especially on the Community Concerts tours) were mostly to blame. He had no room to breathe and develop as an artist. He could have had a huge repertoire if he had taken more time to develop it … after all, he learned the 2nd Rachmaninoff concerto in a little less than a week and then won a competition with it, according to his biographer Abram Chasins, if I recall correctly.

        People closest to him probably were just as much addicted to his sudden success as he himself was, or perhaps even more so … maybe he didn’t bear the thought of disappointing those people by cutting back on his touring schedule? Because, according to all reports, Van Cliburn was one of the most selfless, generous artists this world has ever known.

  • This must have been when he was a student with Rosina Lhevine at Juilliard. Van would have been 19 years old and probably won a concerto competition. The orchestra is made up of the students at the school. There is a very interesting web site called “Piano Classical Rarities”, with lots of unpublished recordings by both well known and obscure pianists. Worth checking out.

    • Definitely. And there’s a wonderful Facebook page by Mark Ainley who posts the most incredible rare recordings on his page, The Piano Files With Mark Ainley. So many fabulous pianists and their recordings immortalized.

    • NYMike says:

      After winning the Leventritt, VC played Prok 3 with the then Denver SO (now CSO). After rehearsal, we went out to lunch. The next time I saw him was a few years after the Tchaik competition in NY during lunch @ the Russian Tea Room.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Thanks for posting this, I enjoyed it very much – warts and all. Cliburn was certainly a talented 19 year old. And Jean Morel! A sadly underrated and nearly forgotten conductor. His former students (many are still alive and working) need to write a biography. Great conductor and teacher.

  • This is perhaps from the new Juilliard digital archives thanks to a grant from the Grammy Museum. (Rumor had it over the years that Van quietly went to Adele Marcus for some coaching prior to Moscow. But his dedication to Madame Lhevinne was 100% nevertheless. These days it is not uncommon for students to work with two mentors at the school if they wish to. Not so in the olden days).

  • NYMike says:

    Accompanying him is probably the Juilliard Orch.

  • Nelson says:

    Well, I would say this is audio, not video, yes? The gentleman posting this to youtube has “discovered” this rarity, and posted it without proper attribution. It’s a performance from the Juilliard archives. The legitimate source can be accessed here: http://jmedia.juilliard.edu/digital/collection/p16995coll3/id/11005/rec/1

  • Michael Kaykov says:

    Not a video, but audio only. Great nevertheless. A marvelous performance!

  • fflambeau says:

    Sounds pretty splatty. He was a great artist but this is not a good example of his skills.

    Lots of mistakes by the french horns in the opening. Not a very good recording, IMO.

  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    Thank you for this discovery! What a way to start the week!

  • Koji Attwood says:

    Not a video, but fantastic nonetheless.

  • Joe Salerno says:

    The earliest live performance by Cliburn (that I know of, audio, not video or audio with a still video accompaniment) was when he won the Houston Symphony concerto competition, 1947 or 48 if memory serves. He would have been 14. Played first movement of Tchaikovsky for a radio broadcast. The young lady who played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto 1st movement on the same broadcast, I don’t remember the name now, I wonder what ever happened to her. When VC is awarded his $100 check, he says “thank you”. His boyish voice really drives home how young he was at the time.

  • Well, this would have been made within the year before he won the Leventritt competition. Wikipedia has this to say about it:

    At age 12, he won a statewide piano competition, which enabled him to debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He entered the Juilliard School in New York City at the age of seventeen and studied under Rosina Lhévinne, who trained him in the tradition of the great Russian romantics. At age twenty, Cliburn won the Leventritt Award and made his debut at Carnegie Hall.

    I have always been an ardent admirer of Van Cliburn … one of my most treasured possessions is an autographed program of a recital he played in Houston in the late 1960’s (I was about 15 at the time); and another is the LP issued by RCA of the live performance of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd concerto (conducted by Kyrill Kondrashin with an unnamed orchestra, most of whom probably played in the NY Phil. or in one of the major [Met or NYC] opera or ballet orchestras) in Carnegie Hall, issued just after he had won the Tchaikovsky Competition.

    I didn’t listen to the clip yet, but have it on my “to do” list for this week!

    Thank you, Norman!

  • Patrick Park says:

    I read all the interesting comments listed. There is a famous saying “ those who can’t make it, make themselves feel important by putting successful people down anyway they can” I had the pleasure to hear Van Cliburn over 26 times. His peers were amazed by his talent and virtuosity. I could list hundreds of the worlds best pianists comments over the years but it would take volumes. His live recordings are witness and those like me who are grateful for hearing him live so many times. Read and listen to what Rosina Levine his teacher said about him. Of course you must know who her husband was but I doubt it. Educate yourselves. I’m sure all of you probably feel that Horowitz wasn’t a great pianist either. He was also a fan of Cliburn and spoke highly of him.