"I felt that something unusual was happening, that I had never heard the piano played like this."
May 20, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

"The sound was not of this world, it hovered in space like some celestial blessing".
He could play the piano ”before he had learned to smile”, his mother said, and he gave his first concert at the age of six. He studied under Alfred Cortot, Charles Munch, Paul Dukas, and Nadia Boulanger. He was an esteemed teacher and critic at 19, an international phenomenon at 24. He escaped from his native Rumania to Switzerland in 1943 with his fiancée, a joint capital of five Swiss francs in their pockets. After the war, just as he had arrived in the pantheon of great performing artists, Dinu Lipatti was diagnosed with leukemia. In September 1950, near death, despite the urgings of his doctors Lipatti insisted upon one last recital at Besançon. As his wife recalled, this was the only way Lipatti could bear to take his leave of the world. Lipatti was so weak he could barely walk to the piano. But once he began playing, he became transformed. After performing 13 waltzes, he could no longer muster the strength necessary to perform the final selection. So he substituted Myra Hess's piano arrangement of Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring".(page with sound). Three months later, Lipatti died at the age of 33. After Lipatti's funeral, his old mentor Cortot wrote: "There was nothing to teach you. One could, in fact, only learn from you."
posted by matteo (15 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Lipatti's last essay


What's your opinion of the late, great Dinu Lipatti? I have been haunted by his soulful and spiritual playing for 30 years now, and have never heard anything approach him. Am I correct or just madly loyal to Dinu?

Tim Page: An incredible pianist -- his early death was an artistic calamity of the first order. I can't even think about his recording of the Hess transcription of "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" without breaking into chills.


William F. Rickenbacker in 1970, for the 20th anniversary of Lipatti's death, reprinted in 1995:
To take a few moments of silence, measured in fractions of a second, and make of them a thematic framework for a gigantic sonata -- who would have thought of this? It was written so. Again: the first movement has exactly one chord marked fortissimo in 12 full pages of notation, and it's the last chord. How many pianists can resist the temptation to rise above a forte at least once in the first 11 pages? Lipatti's resources in the quieter zones of a piano's dynamics are so various and affirmative that he can hold that fortissimo at bay until the end of time and we shall never miss it. So, when it comes, we are raised right out of our seats. He is always doing that to us, piling splendor on top of splendor, and always keeping something supreme in reserve. Finally the paradox disappears in endless visions of loneliness. We know if he had lived to be a hundred and had played forever, he would always have had something in reserve, something he was keeping for us, until we should be ready for it.
posted by matteo at 11:17 AM on May 20, 2006

Lost opportunities

An "Instructions for Recording" sheet dated April 15, 1948 lists as items to be recorded at four sessions two Scarlatti Sonatas (he had already recorded two the previous year), the Chopin Barcarolle, Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso (thus dismissing the tale that the work was recorded on a whim), Debussy's Soiree dans Grenade, and de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance. Two of the dates are crossed out, and Lipatti is only known to have recorded the Chopin and Ravel titles. (The Barcarolle was rejected and issued posthumously.) A memo dated April 21, 1948 - the day the Barcarolle was recorded - finds Legge writing that "Lipatti has made a special request to record the Schumann Etudes Symphoniques," a work in his active repertoire at the time. Although the request was promptly approved, it appears that the recording was not made.
posted by matteo at 11:19 AM on May 20, 2006

"Dinu Lipatti's Bones," by the Mountain Goats
posted by greggish at 11:46 AM on May 20, 2006

Once again, a fabulous post, matteo. Thank you.
posted by bim at 1:20 PM on May 20, 2006

Yes fabulous once again - thanks, matteo! I had never heard of Lipatti, and now I'm off to get some CDs of his music.
posted by carter at 2:48 PM on May 20, 2006

Incredible post, matteo! Thank you!
posted by BobFrapples at 2:54 PM on May 20, 2006

Fine post...
posted by Muirwylde at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2006

Thanks, matteo! My piano teaching aunt thanks you as well - she said she was thrilled to learn of the rare recordings disc on Musica Bona.
posted by dmo at 4:06 PM on May 20, 2006

He didn't win Eurovision, though, did he? Eh? Eh?

Seriously, though - cracking post. Fascinating even without clicking a link, and we don't get many of those.
posted by nthdegx at 4:18 PM on May 20, 2006

Is it just me, or is the performance on that 'page with sound' really bad?
posted by delmoi at 5:05 PM on May 20, 2006

matteo, you must have one of the highest batting averages on MeFi.
posted by absalom at 7:22 PM on May 20, 2006

Thanks, Matteo. Fascinating, as always.
posted by shoepal at 7:41 PM on May 20, 2006

Most midi files sound that bad, delmoi. I don't know Myra Hess' arrangement, but the one on that page doesn't sound like it could be played with two hands.
Still, another fantastic post, matteo.
posted by horsewithnoname at 1:24 PM on May 21, 2006

wonderful, wonderful post. What a loss....
posted by Wilder at 1:15 AM on May 22, 2006

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