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The Ivory Trade

Music and the Business of Music at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

An insider's expose of international piano competitions, providing an anecdotal account of the machinations that take place during competitions



As a “ballyhooed epitome” of music popularization, the Cliburn contest in Fort Worth, Tex., shapes perceptions and wields enormous influence, yet Horowitz concludes that there are better ways of encouraging pianism and that the Cliburn competition cannot recover “the Romantic dream of the piano.” Drawing on interviews with contest organizers and participants, extensive reading and his own observation of the 16-day 1989 competition, Horowitz describes the phenomenon and evaluates its artistic effects. After comparing various competitions, he demonstrates that, as a talent showcase, the Cliburn is impressive at enticing media coverage but doesn't necessarily help the winning pianists. By contrast, the now discontinued Leventritt Competition, held in New York City, didn't court popularity yet set higher standards and produced more outstanding musicians, including Cliburn himself. Lively, opinionated, controversial but fair. (Publishers Weekly)


“Joseph Horowitz is the best current analyst of the awkward dance of commerce and culture in our musical life. He traces the peculiar and indeed tragic trajectory of Van Cliburn’s own career; he draws interesting comparisons between American and Soviet musical training . . . [he] provides profiles of former winners and losers as a way of examining the effect of the competition on the competitors and, even more, of examining the life of a serious musician in a culture where serious music exists on the periphery. . . . A significant book, consistently thoughtful and sympathetic.” (Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe)


“Horowitz offers intriguing insights into every facet of musical life, the bizarre personality of the Cliburn competition, and Mr. Cliburn himself while giving an engrossing description of down-home Texans courting classical music glamour on a grand, international scale.” (Mark Swed, The Wall Street Journal)


“Required reading for everyone who cares about how serious music is made and merchandized.” (John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune)

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