Lipatti Interview on Swiss Radio: July 27, 1950

Three interviews survive of Dinu Lipatti on Swiss radio from 1950, the last year of his life (none have been found from previous years). Here is a recording of the first of the three, dated July 27, a couple of weeks after he had made his legendary valedictory recordings for EMI/Columbia. In the interview, Lipatti discusses these recordings and his approach to interpretation, and also plays two works in the radio studio that he had recorded, giving present-day listeners an opportunity to compare his performances.

The interview with Francois Magnenat at Radio Geneve takes place in French. Below the YouTube window is a thorough English translation.

FM: Maestro, what a pleasure it is to see and hear you today at Radio Geneve. Your countless admirers from Geneva, Switzerland, and the entire world will be especially delighted to know that you are now in a wonderful state of recovery, more able to resume your role as the great international performer we admire so profoundly. And as proof of this, there is the splendid series of recordings which you have just made in the studios of Radio Geneve for an eminent London record company. I’ve been told that you have covered more than 25,000 metres of steel tape with music – is this true?

DL: Absolutely true. We have used about 42 kilos’ worth of tape, which is of course not quite representative of the amount that will be commercially released. That is to say that from this tape we will select only enough for 24 12-inch record sides. Needless to say, this work is indicative of considerable stress, but also of tremendous artistic satisfaction, as we can choose and especially eliminate all that is not worthwhile.

FM: All told I suppose that despite the intensity of such an effort, which I believe lasted more than 10 days, you must be particularly happy to have been able to work in such good conditions.

DL: Yes, I was able to endure this venture without any hint of tiredness, thanks to the fact that my current state of health is excellent. I could not allow myself not to express here my profound gratitude to all of the doctors from Geneva who have treated me, notably my friends the Drs. Dubois-Ferriere and Raymond Sarazin, who have demonstrated unwavering devotion.

FM: Well, as we are here in front of the studio piano, would you perhaps perform for us a work that you particularly enjoyed recording?

DL: It would be a pleasure. If you will allow me, it will be the Waltz No. 3 in A minor by Chopin.

[Lipatti performs the Waltz]

FM: I thank you on behalf of our audience today, who I’m sure will be delighted to know that you have just recorded, I believe, the entire cycle of Chopin’s Waltzes. Could you please tell me, when you find yourself in front of a work that you do not yet know, do you have a procedure, if I may use that word, a standard procedure that allows you to comprehend all of the work’s subtleties and reach an interpretation approaching perfection?

DL: Strictly speaking, I do not have a procedure per se. But obviously I must establish a strategy in order to simplify and shorten the period of work, the most unrewarding, yet at the same time, the most beautiful. I try to learn a work without touching the piano as much as possible during the first week. Particularly in works for piano and orchestra this is beneficial, as one learns not only one’s own part, but that of the whole ensemble. After this, and only after this, I put down the fingerings. As regards fingerings, I should point out that in the music of Chopin, what is particularly striking is that we often find Chopin’s own handprint in certain passages, the writing being so pianistic that it never makes demands on the hand. A good fingering facilitates one’s work by 50%, making it possible to etch the work in one’s memory for years, more so than any other work away from the piano. After the fingerings, there are the nuances. And here, obviously, we must remain within the framework of the text – that is to say, to comply as much as possible with the composer’s own indications, intentions, and suggestions. A period of about a month or two is enough to allow me to learn a work well enough to know it, but not sufficiently to play it in public. And I believe that one must then let it rest and take it up again for the final work, to burnish it and fine-tune it a few months later. I have often had the pleasure to see that in these months of rest, the work has matured, it has worked on itself, if I may say so.

FM: And well, the great majority of your admirers have found you to be, in addition to your extraordinary fame as a virtuoso, the peerless performer of the famous chorale by Bach … [Lipatti plays the theme of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”] That is the one. Are you particularly fond of the works of Bach?

DL: It is the oeuvre that is closest to my heart. I believe it is that in which I feel the least impure and in which perhaps I might give the most of myself as an artist in the future. While I do not wish to specialize, and it is for this reason that I would like to play as many composers as possible, it is nevertheless the works of Bach to which, I believe, I will expend most of my artistic effort.

FM: I believe that you have just recorded in the past few days several works by the great Cantor of Leipzig, which is marvelous as we are this year commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Bach. Would you perhaps speak of these recordings and then play us one of these works?

DL: Certainly. I will play the Chorale in F Minor, Chorale for Organ transcribed for piano by Busoni. But before I play, I would like to tell you the great pleasure I had one Sunday evening. Thanks to the gracious hospitality of Radio Geneve, I was able to record in one attempt the Partita in B-Flat, which will be released in October, and I was able to do so in a leisurely manner, with almost no tests, as was not the case with the Waltzes of Chopin, where we sometimes spent an entire morning on a single Waltz. So if you will allow me, I will play the Chorale in F Minor.

FM: Thank you, Maestro.

[Lipatti performs the Bach-Busoni Chorale]

This translation (C) Mark Ainley, 1999