This year marks the Dinu Lipatti centenary. Lacking a museum or even a dedicated programme in Romania and thinking of such press like the one abroad, with special features dedicated to classical music, I’ve intertwined Mark Ainley, a Canadian specialist that discovered Dinu Lipatti and started to document his work and his life. Mark Ainley began his research during the ’80s, with long letter exchanges to European radio stations. He managed to discover several new Lipatti recordings, two being full concertos, and for nine years insisted that EMI should publish a special CD so that everyone enjoys his new found pieces of music. While reading the interview, you will discover a rare copy of a sheet of an unpublished EMI recording with Dinu Lipatti and cellist Antonio Janigro playing Beethoven, courtesy of Mark Ainley’s private collection. You will also indulge in some deconstructed myths.
Mark Ainley was the only specialist who had access to EMI’s archives during his research. He helds numerous conferences all over the world – recently, in Bucharest and at ICR Wien: Lipatti, the Purest Gold.
A few days ago, Mark Ailney was also interviewed by BBC, alongside Romanian-born pianist Alexandra Dăriescu who performed Lipatti live.
What motivated you to choose Lipatti as a key focus of your research?
Two incidents impelled me to investigate Lipatti. One was when I heard his incredible 1948 disc of Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso. This performance was more widely distributed in Europe than in North America where it only appeared twice on LP, in 1954 and 1982, and soon after learning of Lipatti in my teen years, a local musician loaned me an excellent British LP from the 1960s that included this recording. As soon as I heard the stunning virtuosity in this interpretation, I realized that Lipatti was not always a weak, fragile person with a debilitating illness – that while his strength did at times suffer because of his sickness, he could in fact play with a massive sonority and incredible virtuosity. I listened over and over to the recording and simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I wondered if there were perhaps some more recordings of Lipatti in other repertoire than his more famous ‘Bach-Mozart-Chopin’ solo recordings that demonstrated this aspect of his art and so I was inspired to search them out. The second incident came a few years later when I read a memorial book that Lipatti’s widow had produced in 1970 for the 20th anniversary of his death. In the introduction, Madeleine Lipatti stated that shortly after their arrival in Switzerland in 1943, Lipatti had made a radio broadcast playing works by Enescu and Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, as the Enescu Sonata No.3 from that very same radio session had been released on an EMI record but there were no known recordings of Lipatti playing Beethoven – so if the Enescu existed, surely the Beethoven should too, I thought! This was what inspired me to write my first letter to a European archive – Radio Bern – to see if there were more Lipatti recordings to be found in their collections. Unfortunately Radio Bern didn’t have this performance and I have still not found it after thirty years – but I have not yet given up hope.
You started your research back in the ’80s when it was harder to get information as there was no worldwide web. What difficulties did you overcome?
People who have grown up with the easy access of information via the internet can probably not imagine the different pace of life and the kind of process I had to go through to do my research back in those ‘analogue’ days. My first step in research was to write to Swiss radio stations, since Lipatti had lived in Switzerland for most of his career. To do so, I needed the addresses, and to get those I had to phone the Swiss embassy in Canada. I then typed letters to the archivists of each station, put them in envelopes, walked to the post office, put stamps on the envelopes, put the letters in the mailbox, walked home, and went about my life as I waited for an answer. A swift response – if they wrote the day that they received my inquiry – would usually take two weeks, as it would take about one week for a letter to travel between my home in Montreal and Europe, although sometimes it was faster. One particular challenge – quite a stressful and disappointing one at the time – came one day in 1989 when a piece of paper arrived in the mail from the Südwestfunk in Germany. This radio station had broadcast Lipatti in concert playing the Bartok Third Piano Concerto in 1948, a performance that no collector whom I had contacted seemed to have in their collection. The piece of paper that arrived had my address in the middle and the sender’s address on the top left, in the same way that we write on an envelope – and there was glue on the back of it, so it seemed to have been previously attached to an envelope…! So the next day I phoned the person whose name was listed above the radio station’s address on the paper – phone calls to Europe were very expensive back then so I aimed to be brief – and the station employee asked if I had received the cassette of the Bartok Concerto they had sent me! Well, because only the paper had arrived, I hadn’t received it! I was so surprised that they had so generously sent me a cassette at no cost without even sending me a letter beforehand (Swiss radio sent me recorded interviews with Lipatti but I had to pay for the cassette) – but it had gotten lost in the mail! The post office had no way to locate what would now be a package with no name or address on it – of course, if someone had opened the package, there likely would have been a letter with my home address on it… but no one did and the package never arrived. So in May 1990 I went to the Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden myself and the same kind lady handed me a cassette of the performance in person! Nowadays, a radio station archivist could simply upload an audio file over the internet using a file-transfer system and it could arrive somewhere else on the planet in less than an hour. Research nowadays can in many cases be done more quickly – you can send inquiries and receive answers in a matter of minutes – but the way that I had to do things in the 1980s and 90s taught me how to explore leads and follow through that today’s researchers who are used to the easy methodology of the internet might not attempt. I think people imagine that anything that exists must be on Google or YouTube, but that’s simply not true.
I discovered a fantastic BBC broadcast recording of a short solo Liszt work at the National Sound Archive in London, now the British Library, which demonstrates Lipatti’s unique blend of profound musicality and dazzling virtuoso playing.
Lipatti only recorded about 3,5 hours of music for EMI, and another 3 hours were discovered by his widow and recording producer in the decades after his death. You’ve added another few hours to that total. What did you find in the Lipatti archives?
While I didn’t discover any lost recordings in EMI’s archive, I did uncover a lot of documentation that revealed more about Lipatti’s recording career and other planned sessions. What I was able to find and arrange for publication over the course of several years was two previously unpublished piano concerto performances – the Liszt First and Bartok Third – as well as a number of solo performances from various sources. I discovered a fantastic BBC broadcast recording of a short solo Liszt work at the National Sound Archive in London – now the British Library – which demonstrates Lipatti’s unique blend of profound musicality and dazzling virtuoso playing. Finally in 2000 EMI agreed to release a CD that I had proposed back in 1991 featuring three piano concertos from concert performances: the Bach-Busoni D Minor Concerto – which had only been published on private labels -, Liszt’s First Concerto, and Bartok’s Third Concerto, on one CD. This increased the number of concerto performances with Lipatti issued on the EMI label from four to seven. This pleases me very much, as more listeners can easily access some magical performances that reveal a wider range of his unique musical approach.
In 2000 EMI agreed to release a CD that I had proposed back in 1991 featuring three piano concertos from concert performances: the Bach-Busoni D Minor Concerto – which had only been published on private labels -, Liszt’s First Concerto, and Bartok’s Third Concerto, on one CD.
Was there any particular amazing discovery?
The EMI archives did indeed reveal some fascinating details into Lipatti’s recording history and with it exposed the fact that not all we had been told about him was true. One of the most famous details that had been shared on record notes was a claim by his recording producer Walter Legge that Lipatti would not record the Tchaikovsky Concerto unless he had three years to prepare it and that he would require four years to prepare Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. However, memos written when Lipatti was alive show these statements to be completely false: in 1948 Lipatti agreed to record Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in 1949 with Karajan (despite his never having played it), and Lipatti himself requested in 1948 to record a Beethoven Concerto in 1949 – and he also requested to record Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques. Much had been written about Lipatti’s perfectionism and his resistance to recording certain compositions, but it appears he was quite enthusiastic to make records and wanted to produce more than he had an opportunity to do. It was also revelatory to learn from a collector that Lipatti had played in public 23 works for piano and orchestra – he had only recorded two for EMI, and the stories from his producer made it sound like he hadn’t played much in public, but in fact he had. So we can now realize that Lipatti’s music-making was broader than it has been portrayed.
“Much had been written about Lipatti’s
perfectionism and his resistance to recording certain compositions, but it
appears he was quite enthusiastic to make records”
What did you discover about Lipatti that changed or enriched your perception of him?
Many of the recordings that my research helped locate reveal another side of his pianism than we hear on his more common ‘official’ recordings. Each performance we discover adds something new, particularly when it features different composers or styles of compositions than those in his EMI recordings. The most recent discoveries – private records with Lipatti’s handwriting on the labels that had been purchased from a Geneva estate which ended up in Brooklyn, New York – find him playing three Scarlatti Sonatas exquisitely, with one in particular featuring dazzling crispness and clarity of the musical structure, while two works by Brahms (he made no solo Brahms recordings for EMI) are played with very dramatic accents and magnificent long singing lines. Additionally, two Liszt works that I had located in the 1990s and helped release in 1995 show his truly virtuosic and dramatic playing that is always accomplished with a beautiful tone and musical approach. Lipatti’s most famous recordings feature his ‘less tiring programme’ and were made when he was quite ill and in a small studio in Geneva, not EMI’s wonderful Abbey Road studios in London, so the greater public who would hear these performances while reading stories of his illness had the impression that he was a somewhat gentle and ‘polite’ pianist, not so strong or adventurous. While he always played with great refinement and intelligence, he was until his last months capable of profoundly powerful playing and very bold interpretations. Many great pianists have recorded only a fraction of their concert repertoire and so we don’t always have an accurate representation of their artistry through their recordings. With Lipatti, each recording does show his refinement and elegance, but not all of them provided the opportunity for him to demonstrate his power and bravura. If some other concert recordings were to be found of some of his important repertoire – the Ravel G Major Concerto, Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata – we might be able to change our perception of him even more.
Lipatti’s most famous recordings feature his ‘less tiring programme’ and were made when he was quite ill and in a small studio in Geneva, not EMI’s wonderful Abbey Road studios in London, so the greater public who would hear these performances while reading stories of his illness had the impression that he was a somewhat gentle and ‘polite’ pianist, not so strong or adventurous.
Do you have a favourite recording?
Amongst Lipatti’s studio recordings for EMI I find the most extraordinary to be that legendary Alborada del Gracioso of Ravel, which demonstrates his tremendous power, transcendental virtuosity, and remarkable imagination – it is apparently the only recording with which he himself was fully satisfied. Although his 1950 recording of the 14 Chopin Waltzes is legendary, he recorded one of them in 1947 – the Waltz Op.34 No.1 – in a very bold and adventurous reading, much more so than the more charming 1950 interpretation; this earlier performance was issued only a couple of times on LP and has never been on an EMI CD, but I think it is a much more riveting and compelling interpretation. Additionally, Lipatti’s famous Grieg Concerto features dazzling playing, powerful climaxes, and a beautifiul golden sonority. Amongst Lipatti’s ‘unofficial’ recordings, I am mesmirized by his unconventional 1947 concert recording of the Bach-Busoni D Minor Concerto and his heart-wrenching 1948 reading of Bartok’s Third Concerto, both now available on EMI. The two Chopin Etudes from his 1950 Zurich concert feature some of the most gorgeous playing we have of Lipatti on record, his singing sound and elegant phrasing captured perfectly in high-fidelity sound. And the newly discovered private recordings of 3 Scarlatti Sonatas and 2 Brahms works – scheduled for release on the Marston Records label in a multi-pianist compilation – include some bold gestures, very different from what we generally associate with Lipatti, but extremely musical and highly personal.
Although his 1950 recording of the 14 Chopin Waltzes is legendary, he recorded one of them in 1947 – the Waltz Op.34 No.1 – in a very bold and adventurous reading, much more so than the more charming 1950 interpretation
What would you regard as important for Romanian state to do to keep legacy of Lipatti?
I think it’s important to recognize that Lipatti is widely appreciated worldwide and is one of the most known Romanian musicians amongst international music lovers, and so it would be wonderful to see that honoured in his home country and city. A museum devoted to his memory would be an ideal hommage to his longstanding position as a leading Romanian cultural icon. There has been talk of turning his Bucharest home into a museum and I hope this will happen. His name is well recognized in Romania but I am not sure that Romanians recognize the extent to which Lipatti is revered across the globe – and has been for decades. A wonderful trilingual website has been set up in Romania – dinulipatti.org – thanks to the great work of Monica Isacescu and Stefan Costache – and I believe that a museum in Bucharest would help to educate his compatriots to his brilliant artistry while also welcoming international visitors who are aware of his art to pay tribute to him in his home country.
“A museum devoted to his memory would be an ideal hommage to his longstanding position as a leading Romanian cultural icon”
Dinu Lipatti’s journey was both brilliant and tragic. He played in public as much as possible even when his condition was getting worse. As there have been so many legendary tales about him – some of which you have already revealed as false – how would you describe his destiny?
There are many myths surrounding Lipatti, and I believe that his profound musicality combined with the emotive stories surrounding him – in most cases exaggerated or completely false – have created an otherworldly aura that actually interfere with our authentic assessment of him. He did indeed have a magnetic presence and while he did become a legend in part due to his tragic death, he had attracted such great attention during his lifetime that his fame surely would have been just as great had he lived, although he would have made an even stronger impression because we would have more recordings of a wider variety of music from which we could assess his playing. I think Lipatti’s destiny was one of tremendous potential that was not fully realized but where everything that he did was, as his recording producer said, ‘of the purest gold’. And so while we don’t have as full a picture as we might like, everything we do have is to be appreciated and valued.
“Lipatti spoke very highly of the orchestra at the rehearsal and stated that Karajan’s conducting was like a dream“
What information is there on Lipatti’s connection with the legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan?
There isn’t too much information about their relationship, just a few snippets. They famously recorded Schumann’s Piano Concerto together in April 1948 and played it concert then too, and the recording was a huge success – both of them were up-and-coming artists at the time and this dynamic recording was very well received. However, in a letter to his teacher, Lipatti wrote that he felt that the ‘super-classical’ conductor Karajan was a little faster with tempi than he had hoped and as a result Lipatti felt a little restrained from expressing himself a bit more emotionally in his playing. The two collaborated again at the Lucerne Festival in August 1950 for what would be Lipatti’s final concert with an orchestra – they played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 (fortunately a broadcast recording was found and issued). In an interview before the concert, Lipatti spoke very highly of the orchestra at the rehearsal and stated that Karajan’s conducting was ‘like a dream’. After Lipatti’s death, Karajan paid Lipatti a wonderul tribute when he stated that his playing was ‘no longer the sound of the piano but music in its purest form’. It is a great shame that they weren’t able to collaborate together more – they were supposed to record Bartok’s Third Concerto in 1949 and as I stated earlier, EMI memos reveal that Lipatti had agreed to record the Tchaikovsky Concerto with him as well.
What is the legacy Dinu Lipatti left us and how could we be more aware of it and connected to it?
Lipatti’s name lives on primarily due to the recordings that exist of his exceptional playing. Thanks to the records he made for Electrocord and EMI, and the concert and private recordings that have been found and published since Lipatti died, music lovers now have easy access to a great deal of his playing – and hopefully more will be discovered. There are also recordings of his compositions, some of them having been made quite recently by Romanian pianist Luiza Borac – who recorded some world premieres of Lipatti’s works – and Belgian pianist Julien Libeer. With the internet it is easy for music lovers to read about and listen to Lipatti. I hope that a museum will be set up in Bucharest – it would be a wonderful tribute to his legacy and a place of great interest for both locals and visitors to the city to be able to visit him. And there are some books that have been written – one biography is being republished this year – and hopefully more will follow. Lipatti’s artistry stands as a model not just for musicians but for anyone dedicated to their craft. Nadia Boulanger revealed the essence of his musicianship when she stated that in listening to his recordings we will “understand how one reaches unity by taking the utmost care of every detail with love and joy. We learn from those who can see better and hear more than we do, that nothing can be considered granted and that nothing can be neglected.” If we were all to approach what we do with this attitude – as Lipatti did his music-making – the world would be a very different place.