I never saw Van Cliburn during the years that he performed rarely but friends who attended a Tanglewood concert near the end of his life said it was very disappointing.This article by Tim Page
in the New York Review of Books
suggests that while Cliburn had some unique gifts he failed to mature and develop as an artist.
(Great to see you!)
Thanks for linking to that article/review. I hadn't known of it.
(Hard to know what to call it. Formally it's a review of two books about Cliburn, but I'd say that more so, it uses those books as a springboard for an overview of Cliburn.)
About Rubinstein and others of the older pianists resenting and disdaining Cliburn's sudden prominence and his higher fees than theirs.....how can I put it.... They were wrong.
Granting that maybe the brief thing about it in this article doesn't fairly represent it, if we assume that it's basically right, they were wrong.
It seems that such a reaction would be based on the idea -- maybe a couple of ideas -- that someone's prominence and fees should depend just on 'how good' they are, also maybe that you should have to 'pay your dues' and earn the status over a period of time.
It ignores important aspects of human nature.
Fame and prominence at a given moment depend a lot on well, the moment. What Cliburn had achieved was a one-of-a-kind historic thing. Millions of people heard about it and were captivated. They enjoyed being captivated about it, they enjoyed talking and hearing about it, they were reading about it in all the newspapers and magazines, and they enjoyed connecting with the story. Sure, in order for Cliburn to carry it further to successes on the concert circuit and continuing to sustain the interest for more than 10 minutes, he had to play at least sort of well
.....and he did. But it didn't mean he was better or greater than Rubinstein or anyone else, and he didn't have to be.
Stuff like this comes up also when we hear grumbling, as we sometimes do, about the occasional fuss over CHILDREN who play extremely well, or a blind guy who plays extremely well. Y'know.....Why should there be any extra interest in that? After all, the music is the music, right? And there are thousands of non-children and sighted people who play that well or better.
Well, it does make a difference. Aspects of the performer that have nothing directly to do with the music are part of the experience of seeing or hearing the person play. The point isn't just the sound that comes out of the piano or whatever instrument; it's the experience of seeing or hearing the performance. Obviously I'm not saying that the music doesn't matter, just that the experience of hearing a performance -- and of anticipating the performance, remembering it, and valuing it -- can involve more than that. If Rubinstein (whom I loved too, and with whose playing I think Cliburn's shared important qualities) ......if Rubinstein and others of his older colleagues didn't understand that, that was just a failure of understanding.
AND, there's another thing: Newness
Someone great who is new
might legitimately garner more interest than someone greater who's been around forever. Let's assume that from a pure music standpoint Rubinstein was greater than Cliburn (I know I'm not going far out on a limb by saying he was
although I don't think it's a rout, because I do consider Cliburn great also, from a pure music standpoint) .....Still, Cliburn, by virtue of being new..... People could understandably be more interested in going to hear Cliburn than Rubinstein, because they've heard Rubinstein a lot of times, they love it, but they know basically what he does; they're hardly uninterested in hearing him again, but it's understandable if they're more interested in hearing this new guy.At least temporarily.
This wouldn't carry the new guy at such a level for very long. But to be surprised or react angrily at the moment --- that's perhaps understandable, but it reflected a failure of their understanding.
About another thing, the idea that Cliburn "stopped growing":
I don't agree.
I don't mean that I know it wasn't true, just that I don't agree that this is a reasonable conclusion from the information at hand.
Fact: Practicing an instrument for hours and hours, for weeks and months and years on end, can get old
When you think about it, it's kind of a weird activity to immerse oneself in -- sitting at this mechanical piece of equipment for hours and hours, wiggling your fingers this way and that way, playing stuff that someone else wrote, long ago, and playing it over and over. We
are used to it; we think of it as a normal thing, and I suppose it sort of is.
But it's not what we human beings evolved for, and in a big way it involves a denial of many things that we did evolve for -- including not just the obvious tangible needs and instincts but also -- and coincidentally this dove-tails with one of the things I said up there -- ....but also with being drawn to new
There have been many, many prominent musicians who, for one reason or another, often put under the basket of "burnout," lost their passion for working on music and performing. Some of them continued doing it but just got worse at it because they didn't any longer have the passion for the music nor the interest to spend so much time working on the technical aspects; some of them continued with high-level music careers but in other areas, like conducting or teaching; some of them left music completely; and some of them decided it wasn't worth living at all any more. I don't think Cliburn "stopped growing." From anything I could tell, he largely had a very satisfactory and satisfying life, limited mainly by society's view of being gay, especially in certain sub-communities, like his, but not by "stopping to grow." I think he mainly just didn't much have it in him to keep wiggling his fingers several hours a day on this mechanical piece of equipment -- and I think that's very understandable, and he's had lots of company at that over the centuries.
As I said, it's not like I feel I have any special knowledge of Cliburn, or even any un-special knowledge. It's mainly just that I see what seems to be a gap of logic in the thing I'm talking about. BUT ALSO: I'm also going somewhat on my impressions of him from having had the pleasure of meeting him and hearing him speak during the several times I was at the amateur competition in Fort Worth. For what it's worth (no pun, that was an incidental alliteration)
.....the fellow there did not seem anything like someone who had stopped growing, musically or otherwise.