Dinu Lipatti interviewed by Franz Walter, Radio Genève, September 29, 1950

The final recorded interview with Dinu Lipatti took place two weeks after his legendary final recital in Besançon. On September 29, 1950, Lipatti spoke with Franz Walter at Radio Genève about the Besançon concert, about a recital that was to take place the following day, and about some future plans – despite his stated reluctance to speak about them. Alas, none of these proposed activities took place: the next day, Lipatti was forced to cancel his appearance for the Jeunesses Musicales on short notice. At the end of this interview, Lipatti announces that he will play the Bach-Kempff Siciliano, yet the recording has not been found in Swiss archives. There have been recent reports of a copy existing in private hands, but these have not been substantiated.

FW: Ah, no, it didn’t take place yesterday – it will take place tomorrow. It’s tomorrow that the great pianist, Dinu Lipatti will play for the Jeunesses Musicales of Geneva. This event also marks the beginning of Lipatti’s concert season in Switzerland, an event that will especially be met with joy as we all know the hard battle that Lipatti has fought these past few years to conserve his health. It is for this reason that I will ask this banal question to Lipatti, which I am now formulating, on behalf of all of our listeners, with great anticipation. Mr. Lipatti, how are you?

DL: Well, I am happy to be able to tell you that today I am able to resume some of my activity, despite some inevitable setbacks as regards my health, as was recently the case in Besançon.

FW: Ah, you had to cancel your concert.

DL: No, not exactly, but one hour before the concert, I was so weak that I had anticipated only being able to play the first half of my recital. But once on stage, I gave it in its entirety, sustained by a touching, hospitable atmosphere. I believe that among all of the Summer music festivals, the Besançon Festival is among the most eclectic and warrants the enthusiastic support of both professionals and music enthusiasts.

FW: And have you not also made a number of commercial recordings quite recently?

DL: Yes, last July I recorded all of the Waltzes of Chopin, works by Bach and Mozart, 12 records in all, in 12 days of passionate, intense work, to the extent that I exhausted the 6 British engineers who had come to Geneva specifically to help me conserve my energy, and managed to send them racing back to London two days early so that they could recover from the ordeal to which I had subjected them.

FW: Well, this is a clear indication of your sympathetic nature. Would it be indiscreet to ask what your projects are for this winter?

DL: I will not talk about them freely, as those which are most successful are those of which we say nothing. Nevertheless, I will tell you that on the 9th of October I hope to give a recital in Zurich, and a few days later go to London for two concerts and a recording with orchestra. I will play very little this season in order not to jeopardize the progress I have made with my health these past few months.

FW: Please tell me, is the fact that your concert season in Geneva is beginning under the auspices of the Jeunesses Musicales a mere coincidence, or did you particularly wish to demonstrate your interest in this organization?

DL: Well, I would say that in 1946, I had the pleasure to play five times in a row the C Major Concerto of Mozart with Paul Sacher for the ten thousand members of Jeunesses Musicales of Brussels. I returned to Switzerland full of enthusiasm for this organization and I felt that I could participate for the same cause in Switzerland through, among others, my student Jacques Chapuis. I am therefore delighted to be able to inaugurate the new Geneva season of Jeunesses Musicales with tomorrow’s Bach concert at the Theatre de la Cour St. Pierre. The goal of the Jeunesses Musicales seems to me particularly worthy, as it brings music within the reach of children and additionally allows those of modest means to enter a kingdom that would otherwise be virtually inaccessible to them.

FW: I thank you on behalf of all the members of Jeunesses Musicales, who will also certainly express their appreciation tomorrow, and I would like to ask you another question that I hope you will not find too forward. Geneva and Switzerland have, in a manner of speaking, adopted you for some years now to the point that we consider you, not without pride but quite naturally, a member of our artistic community. Could you explain in a few words the circumstances that brought you to Switzerland?

DL: Yes, certainly. Having arrived in Switzerland in the Autumn of 1943, where I fell ill after 3 concerts, the Conservatoire de Geneve through its director, M. Henri Gagnebin, honoured me by proposing that I take over the “classe de virtuosite” of the late Alexandre Mottu. This changed my life, and my career developed in a most wonderful way thanks to the tremendous goodwill of your compatriots, who I like so much and to whom I am truly grateful. I would like to specifically address a message of sincere thanks to Henri Gagnebin for all the kindness he has shown me during these years.

FW: Your career has indeed developed in the most extraordinary manner in Switzerland, but unfortunately you have had to give up your post at the Conservatoire. Is this a definitive decision?

DL: I do not believe so. In my five years of teaching at the Conservatoire de Geneve, I believe I have learned many things myself, as to give lessons is often to receive them, and among the most rewarding. If today I am not able to foresee teaching regularly at the renowned hall at Place Neuve, Nadia Boulanger and I are already planning a public interpretation course at the Conservatoire de Geneve for next Spring.

FW: Well, this is some news that will delight musicians! Time has gone quickly, alas, and we must conclude. But I would like to tell our listeners, and to do so quickly before Mr. Lipatti interrupts me, that in an age where we have so many examples of sensational heroism, Lipatti gives us in his whole career a rare example of calm, even smiling, heroism, which allows him to meet the great challenges he has faced. And he is going to prove it to you now. Will you not, Mr. Lipatti, add your message as a musician by playing us one of the works from tomorrow’s programme?

DL: Yes, I propose to play you the Siciliano in G Minor by Bach, excerpt from the Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in E Flat.

FW: In advance, I thank you.

This translation © Mark Ainley 2001

  • Catherine Garrett

    I lived in Geneva as a child from 1954-1960. Franz Walter (cellist in the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, teacher at the Conservatorium and music critic for the Journal de Geneve) was the husband of my beloved piano teacher Odette Walter at the Conservatoire de Geneve (to which this interview refers). Henri Gagnebin was still its director then and one of my examiners. Like Lipatti, my mother became ill in Geneva died as he did of Hodgkins Disease. They shared the same doctor, Dr Neeser, whose son went to my school. My older brother David took lessons in flute douce from Mme Hartmann in the building where Lipatti had lived with his wife, just outside the Old City of Geneva. David (now a distinguished music historian in Sydney) and I used to go to the concerts of the Suisse Romande Orchestra at the Victoria Hall where we sat in the top gallery. Below us, in the body of the hall, sat Franz and Odette Walter. At interval we would run down the stairs to meet them. Franz Walter would ask David’s opinion of the performance, with respect but a twinkle in his eye. He called my brother , then eleven and twelve years old, ‘mon cher collegue’: my dear colleague. How moving, then, to listen to this recording that David found on the internet!

    • Mark Ainley

      What a moving testimonial, Catherine – many thanks for sharing! What an incredible web of connections you have to Lipatti through Walter and others in their circle. How fortunate you are to have lived in such a wonderful epoch and place. I very much appreciate your having taken the time to share your recollections!

    • Nayanika

      Thank you for this wonderful share ~ Amen ~