Below is a draft from May 1950 of a presentation for an Interpretation Course to be held at the Conservatoire de Geneve. Lipatti had planned to give the course with Nadia Boulanger in the Spring of 1951. The text below was found in his papers after his death, and gives a good glimpse of his views towards interpretation.
It is unjustly believed that the music from one era or another must preserve the imprint, the characteristics, and even the vices prevalent at the time this music was created. In thinking this way we have a peaceful conscience and find ourselves incapable of any dangerous misrepresentation. And to reach this objective, for all the effort, for all the research done in the dust of the past, for all the useless scrupulousness towards the ‘sole object of our attention,’ we will always end up drowning it in an abundance of prejudices and false facts. For, let us never forget, true and great music transcends its time and, even more, never corresponded to the framework, forms, and rules in place at the time of its creation: Bach in his work for organ calls for the electric organ and its unlimited means, Mozart asks for the pianoforte and distances himself decisively from the harpsichord, Beethoven demands our modern piano, which Chopin – having it – first gives its colors, while Debussy goes further in presenting through his Preludes glimpses of Martenot’s Wave [i]. Therefore, wanting to restore to music its historical framework is like dressing an adult in an adolescent’s clothes. This might have a certain charm in the context of a historical reconstruction, yet is of no interest to those other than lovers of dead leaves or the collectors of old pipes.
These reflections came to me while recalling the astonishment that I caused some time ago when I played, at a prominent European music festival [ii], Mozart’s D minor Concerto [K. 466] with the magnificent and stunning cadenza that Beethoven made for this work. True, we could sense that the same themes appear differently under Beethoven’s pen than under that of Mozart. But this is exactly wherein lies the appeal of this interesting confrontation between two such different personalities. I regret to say that other than a few enlightened spirits, nobody understood this marriage and everyone suspected that I had composed this vile and anachronistic cadenza!
How right Stravinsky is in affirming that ‘Music is the present’!
Music has to live under our fingers, under our eyes, in our hearts and in our brains with all that we, the living, can offer it.
Far be it for me to promote anarchy and disdain for the fundamental laws which guide, along general lines, the coordination of a valid and pertinent interpretation. But I find it a grave mistake to lose oneself in researching useless details regarding the way in which Mozart would have played a certain trill or grupetto. As for myself, the diverse markings provided by excellent yet incomplete treatises compel me to decisively take the path to simplification and synthesis while immutably preserving some four or five fundamental principles of which I think you are aware (or at least, I suppose you are), and for the rest I rely on intuition, that second but no-less-precious intelligence, and to in-depth penetration of the work, which, sooner or later, ends up confessing the secret of its soul.
Never approach a score with eyes of the dead or the past, for they may bring you nothing more in return than Yorick’s skull [iii]. Alfredo Casella rightly said that we must not be satisfied with merely respecting masterpieces, but we must love them.
This translation © Mark Ainley 2003
i. An invention by Maurice Martenot (1898-1980) based on his discovery that the recently invented radio tubes produced a certain ‘purity of vibrations’. He presented his unique instrument at the Paris Opera in 1928 (he had started his research in 1919) and a number of composers, particularly French, wrote works for it.
ii. Lipatti performed the Mozart D Minor Concerto at the Lucerne Music Festival on August 23, 1947, with Paul Hindemith conducting.
iii. This refers to the scene in ‘Hamlet’ where the protagonist finds the skull of his favourite clown from his childhood. Lipatti is most likely stressing that in searching for the exact style of interpretation in the past, we may end up with something that once contained life but no longer does.