This ballade is dedicated to Pauline de Noailles. The inspiration for this Ballade is usually claimed to be Adam Mickiewicz’s poem Undine, but sometimes reported to be Mickiewicz’s Świtezianka; There are structural similarities with the “Raindrop Prelude” which was inspired by the weather in Majorca during Chopin’s disastrous vacation with George Sand. These include a repetitive A-flat which modulates into a repetitive G-sharp during the C-sharp minor section.
Van Cliburn, the gifted pianist who electrified America by winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition, in 1958, passed away this morning, at age seventy-eight. Cliburn was remarkable for many reasons—for his musical gift, certainly, but also for his odd career. He achieved worldwide fame at twenty-three, when he won the Competition, which was held in Moscow in the midst of the Cold War, and he embarked on a number of successful concert tours. But he gradually gave up performing and announced his retirement in 1978, when he was only forty-four years old.
The New Yorker’s archives contain two snapshots of Cliburn around the time of his Moscow success.
Nikita Khrushchev’s response, when asked by the selection committee of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 whether they were allowed to give an American, Van Cliburn, the first prize of a competition that initially set out to prove Russian cultural superiority after the scientific success of Sputnik. Van Cliburn performed Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto in the final round. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto was the first classical album to ever “go platinum.”