Van Cliburn dies aged 78

27 February 2013, 17:30 | Updated: 28 February 2013, 12:19

Legendary pianist Van Cliburn has died aged 78 after losing his battle with advanced bone cancer, it has been confirmed.

Harvey Lavan ‘Van’ Cliburn, one of the most popular classical pianists of recent years, passed away on Wednesday morning after losing his battle with advanced bone cancer. He was 78.

Born in Louisiana in 1934, Cliburn began taking piano lessons from his mother aged just 3. By the time he was 12, he had already won a state piano competition and performed with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He made his Carnegie Hall debut aged just 20.

Educated at Julliard, he won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, aged 23. At the height of the Cold War, it was unusual for an American pianist to be recognised in such a public way.

He performed Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. His later recording of the Tchaikovsky was the first classical recording to sell 1million copies, and eventually went triple-platinum.

Cliburn has performed for every American president since Harry Truman, despite retiring from performance in 1978. He won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his services to classical music in 2004.

August 2012 saw Cliburn diagnosed with advanced bone cancer, and received treatment in Texas.

Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who had met Cliburn in recent years, described his passing as "A great loss and a very sad day."