The Texan Who Conquered Russia


It was 60 years ago when Kilgore’s 23-year-old Van Cliburn took the world by storm when he won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow during the Cold War April 13, 1958. He played Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” in the competition that some say the Soviet’s designed to demonstrate their cultural superiority.

In Haward Reich’s book Van Cliburn, he said that although some tried to marginalize Cliburn so they could knock him from the competition, he made it to the finals. Judges, fearing exile to Siberia, brought in Soviet leader Khrushchev as they deliberated. The premier asked them if he was the best, and told them to give him the prize when they answered yes. This was credited with bridging the Cold War gap.

Cliburn’s performance earned an eight-minute standing ovation, a tickertape parade in New York City, a cover story in Time magazine naming him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia,” and a long, successful career that included a Grammy award, the first-ever platinum album for a classical recording, and gigs for royalty, heads of state, and every U.S. president form Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama. 

Van Cliburn died February 27, 2013, at the age of 78. Read more about his life in the County Line Magazine archives,

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