Cliburn's historic performance add to national audio registry

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 21, 2013 


Van Cliburn plays the Star Spangled Banner at the start of a concert series promoting the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 10, 2010.


WASHINGTON -- It was a moment in time that became a moment in history.

And now it will be a moment for all time.

Van Cliburn's historic winning performance in the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow has been chosen as one of 25 audio recordings to be added today to the National Recording Registry by Librarian of Congress James Billington.

Fort Worth's Cliburn, who died Feb. 27, became a sensation with his gold medal win at the height of the Cold War, making him a hero in the U.S. as well as Russia and launching his career as a cultural ambassador in addition to a world-renowned pianist.

He became known as "the Texan who conquered Russia."

"The award of first place in the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition to Van Cliburn was a seminal moment in illustrating the power of cultural events to affect international affairs," Billington, an expert in Russian cultural history, said in an email to the Star-Telegram.

"The broadcast of Van Cliburn's winning performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 captured the intensity of the moment in Moscow, in which a young American artist electrified a Russian audience by playing one of their specially beloved pieces."

Billington added: "That culturally significant performance is important for the 2012 National Recording Registry of America -- and reminds the world that sound recordings can be time capsules of history worth preserving for future generations."

The library adds 25 recordings a year -- there are now 375.

Patrick Loughney, executive director of the library's National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, said Cliburn's inclusion in the registry was not motivated by his recent death.

"It's a coincidence, really," he said, explaining that the selections were made months ago.

"He had been nominated in prior years. It was Billington's decision that it was time to put him in the registry."

Loughney said Cliburn's performance, which was recorded live, was 33 minutes and 28 seconds.

The list of sound recordings added to the registry also includes another iconic Texan, Janis Joplin, whose second album with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills, became a generational statement.

Also included in this year's selections: Chubby Checker's The Twist from 1960; Simon and Garfunkel's 1966 album Sounds of Silence; Pink Floyd's 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon; the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack; and a Will Rogers radio broadcast in 1931 of President Herbert Hoover's unemployment relief campaign.

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