I first discovered the music of American pianist Van Cliburn, who passed away yesterday at age 78, because of the film Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). No, he did not perform in it or on its soundtrack – if he had, it would have been when he was a teenager – but I’ll get to him in a second. The haunting piano theme that plays throughout the film is “Un sospiro” by Franz Liszt, a composition I found so beautiful that I immediately sought it out on YouTube.
The recording that I chose to listen to was this one by Van Cliburn. It is exquisite; absolute rapture. Going further and discovering his wonderful performances of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (listen on YouTube: parts one, two, three and four), Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (parts one, two, three and four) and Chopin’s Etude in E, Op. 10, No. 3 prove to me just how great and gifted Cliburn was. He will be missed.