Named Constantin by his parents, but always known as Dinu, Lipatti was born into a cultivated and musical family. His father was a violinist who had studied with Pablo de Sarasate and Carl Flesch, whilst his mother was a pianist. Young Dinu’s godfather was George Enescu, a composer and performer who had a great influence on the life of Lipatti. He was a frail child, and his parents did not send him to school but employed tutors. His first formal piano lessons, at the age of eight, were with Mihail Jora, and at eleven Jora prepared Lipatti for entrance to the Bucharest Conservatory where he studied with Florica Musicescu (teacher of Radu Lupu and Mindru Katz). During his time at the Conservatory Lipatti performed the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16, and in 1932 he graduated at the age of fifteen with a performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11. The following year he was performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat in public.
At the age of seventeen Lipatti was awarded second prize at the Vienna International Piano Competition, a fact that caused jury member Alfred Cortot to resign in protest that Lipatti had not won first prize. Cortot invited Lipatti to study with him at his École Normale de Musique in Paris; he also received piano lessons from Cortot’s assistant Yvonne Lefébure and studied composition with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger whom he came to think of as his ‘musical guide and spiritual mother’. Lipatti also attended conducting classes with Charles Munch.
It was in 1935 that Lipatti gave the first performance in Paris of Enescu’s Sonata in F sharp minor, but not until 1939 that he made his official Paris debut at the Salle Pleyel. In the interim he regularly performed in Paris and built a reputation for himself. In 1936 he met pianist Clara Haskil and they became close friends for the rest of his life. In 1938 Lipatti played in Italy, but the outbreak of World War II caused him to return to Bucharest where he taught and composed, and performed in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Italy and Bulgaria. At this time he started working with a pupil of Florica Musicescu, Madeleine Cantacuzène who, although married, became his constant companion, and who was eventually able to marry Lipatti just before his death. In 1943 Lipatti left Romania, never to return. He toured Sweden, Finland, Germany (where he played with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra), and Switzerland, and it was in Geneva that he was taken seriously ill. Only four years after his Paris debut, Lipatti was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia, lymphogranulomatosis, which took his life only seven years later. In the late 1940s Lipatti drastically reduced his public appearances, cancelling tours of America and Australia and undergoing sessions of radiation treatment. He was able to perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Herbert von Karajan in London in 1949, and with Ernest Ansermet in Geneva in February 1950, whilst in May 1950 he began using a new drug, cortisone, which allowed him to record and perform for another seven months. He gave his final recital at the Besançon Festival in September 1950 and died on 2 December 1950.
It is not surprising, given his death at the age of thirty-three, that Lipatti achieved cult status in the years following his death. However, his reputation, today based on his recordings, emphasises the fact that his premature death in no way clouded the critical reception he has received. Lipatti was an extremely sensitive musician and man. His approach to the piano was one of utter fastidiousness, striving for perfection in every aspect of his interpretation and performance. On the rare occasions that adverse criticism is directed at Lipatti it is on the grounds that his performances are too perfect, too cool, lacking depth of feeling. It is a viewpoint that can be taken on some aspects of his recordings, but nearly always the overall impression of his integral performances outweighs any criticism of this kind. During his lifetime Lipatti was admired by many pianists such as Wilhelm Backhaus, Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Kempff and Arthur Schnabel. Many other musicians were also highly impressed by Lipatti’s talents including Yehudi Menuhin, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger and Frank Martin. After hearing Lipatti at La Scala in 1946, Arturo Toscanini became an admirer and friend of the Lipattis.
Lipatti’s first issued commercial recordings were some Brahms duets made with Nadia Boulanger for HMV in 1937. It was in January 1946 that Lipatti signed a contract with Columbia in England, his recordings being supervised by Walter Legge. The first recording session was held in Zürich but all the masters were unusable due to noisy surfaces. From future sessions made in London during the late 1940s come Lipatti’s accounts of Chopin’s Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 58, and a wonderfully lyrical Barcarolle Op. 60, the famous recordings of the Schumann and Grieg Piano Concertos, which are still mainstays of the gramophone catalogue, and some short solos including a pair of Scarlatti sonatas and a stunning Alborada del gracioso by Ravel. With his health fortified by injections of cortisone, Lipatti was able to undertake recording sessions during June and July 1950. The Columbia engineers in London took their recording equipment to Geneva to record as much as possible in the short time left to Lipatti. Published titles from these sessions include Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B flat BWV 825, some Bach arrangements, Chopin’s fourteen waltzes plus a mazurka, and Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A minor K. 310. The entire final recital at the Besançon Festival was recorded and issued by EMI.
Live performances from radio broadcasts and private recordings have survived. Busoni’s version of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor BWV 1052 was performed with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Eduard van Beinum in 1947. Lipatti’s live recording of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11 attained some notoriety in 1981. It was published by EMI in 1963, but later, after selling around 60,000 copies, was found to be a performance by Halina Czerny-Stefanska made for Supraphon in 1955. EMI immediately withdrew the Czerny-Stefanska recording and produced another recording of the same concerto by Lipatti from Zürich in 1950. Also issued by EMI is a live performance from Lucerne in 1950 of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major K. 467 with Karajan, and a 1943 Swiss radio broadcast of Lipatti playing his godfather Enescu’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in D major Op. 25. A set of two compact discs was issued in 1995 on the Archiphon label. It contains private, test and live recordings, the most important of which are some works by Liszt that Lipatti did not record commercially. The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat, unfortunately in poor sound, comes from a broadcast in 1947 with the Suisse Romande Orchestra and Ernest Ansermet; a scintillating Gnomenreigen is from a test pressing made in Bucharest in April 1941, and an excellent version of La Leggierezza is taken from a BBC broadcast of September 1947. The second disc is of performances of works by Lipatti, some performed by himself. Tahra have published three radio interviews and a broadcast of Lipatti playing his own Sonatine for the left hand from 1943. The Urania label in 1999 released Lipatti playing Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 broadcast in 1948, and it is coupled with the live Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 in slightly superior sound.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Composer