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Legendary Pianist Van Cliburn Dies At 78

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's remember, now, a brilliant pianist who turned music into a bridge between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Van Cliburn passed away yesterday, at his home in Texas, at 78.

Back in 1958, the young Cliburn was an unknown when he went to Moscow and wowed the country. In winning the Tchaikovsky International Music Competition, he beat Soviet musicians playing Russian music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "PIANO CONCERTO NUMBER ONE")

MONTAGNE: In America, Van Cliburn's performance was seen as a small victory in the Cold War, and his career took off. His recording of Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto Number One" became the first million-selling classical album in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, TCHAIKOVSKY "PIANO CONCERTO NUMBER ONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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