The American pianist Van Cliburn has died aged 78.

Van Cliburn’s peak came in the 1950’s, when he briefly became a hugely notable figure in the ongoing cold war between the USA and Russia, after the American crossed over to Moscow and won the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition at the age of just 23. The success at that competition was heightened given the political climate at the time, and Van Cliburn found that he was a huge star upon returning home from the competition. A recording of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 was subsequently released by RCA Victor and made platinum in the US, the first classical album to achieve such sales.

"That Van Cliburn won the first ever Tchaikovsky Prize in Moscow in 1958, the middle of the Cold War, is testimony to his prodigious gifts," said BBC Radio 3 presenter Michael Berkely. "Trained in the great Romantic repertoire he brought to Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky great emotional power." Van Cliburn’s fame and respect saw him perform to every US President from Harry Truman onwards, culminating in President Obama awarding him with the National Medal of Arts in 2010. Van Cliburn received the award for his contribution as "one of the greatest pianists in the history of music,” with the President adding "Mr Cliburn has reached across political frontiers with the universal message of beautiful music.” Van Cliburn was diagnosed with cancer last August.