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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 told the story in a nutshell.  Key players were Dr. Irl Allison and Grace Ward Lankford.

TCU, first home of "The Cliburn"

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," circa 1961.

Below the flyer is a draft news release, "Fort Worth will be the musical capital of the world...," showing the proposed competition events schedule.  

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 groups involved in launching the competition.

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.



Critic arranges to come to FW

Grace Lankford secured the presence of eminent music critic Paul Hume for commentary during the first Van Cliburn Competition. In a letter dated May 9, 1962, months prior to the competition, Hume praises Lankford's efforts and expresses excitement about reviewing what he plainly considered to be a momentous event. (In the last section of this exhibit, "wrap-up," is Hume's final, glowing write-up of the first Cliburn for the Saturday Review, mirrored in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)

Grace Ward Lankford

In 1981 Catherine Lankford Haden talked about her mother's role in establishing the Cliburn Competition.  Articles from 1962 and 1985 (Korth..., below) shed further light on the process.

Hosts and the hosted

Hospitality was an important part of the Cliburn Competition from the beginning.  As part of arrangements in 1962 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.