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In the Beginning: the First Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, 1962: Founding and organizing

The beginnings of the competition

Written by E. Clyde Whitlock, fixture of the Fort Worth musical community, this piece from the First Van Cliburn Competition program tells the story in a nutshell.  Key players were Dr. Irl Allison and Grace Ward Lankford.

Selling the competition

The new Van Cliburn Competition was promoted through the application brochure, in part, and also through this two-page flyer, "Here's What They're Saying About Fort Worth," ca.1961.

Below the flyer is a draft news release, "Fort Worth will be the musical capital of the world...," showing the competition event schedule.  View the complete flyer in the TCU/Special Collections digital repository.

Part of the organizing effort was determining how the new Cliburn organization would present itself to the public. 1961 correspondence shows an array of letterheads representing the organizations involved in launching the competition.

Interruptions, interruptions...

During the first few Cliburn Competitions, preliminary performances were not complete renditions of musical works. Presumably in the interests of time, the jury interrupted pianists to request a different work.  Later competitions featured only complete performances of musical compositions.

The Founders

Dr. Irl Allison, founder of the Piano Guild, first broached the idea of starting a Van Cliburn Competition. Above: cover of the Piano Guild News shortly after Allison's death in 1979.

Competition open to all

Unlike many piano competitions at the time, all phases of the first Van Cliburn Competition were open to the audience.  Also incorporated from the beginning was the practice of inviting distinguished official observers.

A 1961 letter from Grace Ward Lankford to the Honorable Jim Wright revealed that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was invited to be Honorary Chairman of the first Cliburn competition; it also asked the names of Washington legations in order to issue invitations.



Grace Ward Lankford

In 1981 Catherine Lankford Haden told about her mother's role in establishing the Cliburn Competition.  Articles from 1962 and 1985 shed further light on the process.

Hosts and the hosted

Hospitality was a notable part of the Cliburn Competition from the beginning.  Forms were circulated among contestants to ascertain their interest in various events.  A list of contestants by country was tied to host assignments, reflected in a press article.  Social activities were described in a "Contestants" companion article.

More detailed contestant information was presented in an insert for the competition program.