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Dinu Lipatti
As Recorded and Archived at the National Romanian Radio

Dinu Lipatti, the classic of worldwide pianistics, the composer, emerged, maybe not by pure hazard, in the most auspicious moment in modern Romania’s history anad in an intense time in our country’s culture, a country which defined, established and affirmed itself through its great institutions - among which I don’t think it would be wrong to place the Romanian Radio.

Biography / Writings / Studies




Happily, the universe we inhabit is stable and predictable, causality and a reference to context remain therefore reliable instruments in helping us understand it. I use this truism only in contrast with another idea - and I will quote from Florinela Popa’s Mihail Jora, a modern European. The authoress, speaking about professor Jora and his composition class at the Academy for Music and Dramatic Art in Bucharest, observes: "The essential condition [Jora] imposed in the construction of themes was that they be musical; within certain limits, this could compensate for the breaking of rules of severe harmony”. The musicality, belonging to the ineffable and situated beyond the ordinary logic, represented a primary principle and, assuredly, Lipatti was one of first disciples in whom professor Jora would instil it. His pianism, his musicality, his intuition, his inspiration – these are qualities as familiar to all of us as they are quantic: we feel them, yet they remain impalpable, all the while forming the unmistakable print of phenomena such as the one we evoke here. We cannot fathom the ineffable in this appeal to history, but we can call back concrete data and facts from the Romanian world in between the two World Wars; because the essence of an artist is both unfathomable and a result of its time.

Dinu Lipatti, the classic of worldwide pianistics, the composer, emerged, maybe not by pure hazard, in the most auspicious moment in modern Romania’s history anad in an intense time in our country’s culture, a country which defined, established and affirmed itself through its great institutions - among which I don’t think it would be wrong to place the Romanian Radio. In point of fact, Lipatti grew up along with the public radio: just eleven years separate his birth (1917) from the first signal the Romanian Radio ever broadcast (1928).

It must be said that during the first, pioneering years of the Romanian Radio classical music was a marked priority in its programmes; it wasn’t something that was taken for granted, though, as we might think today, it was something fought and militated for, and the merit here is undoubtedly Mihail Jora’s: in this domain, too, he became a missionary, and he came up with even more than what is currently known as the Radio Music Season. We can therefore say that without Mihail Jora the history of classical music at the Romanian Radio would have very probably looked quite different.

Even from that first year of broadcasting, 1928, a studio whose equipment was at the standards of the time was developed at 60, General Berthelot Str. (still the current the address of the Romanian Radio): a spacious salon, with velvet upholstery, the walls covered with 20 cm strata of cork sawdustto absorb vibrations, a thick floor and double crystal windows covered, like the ceiling, in plush, and a grand piano. The salon could thus offer a 20-musicians orchestra the best of conditions.

At thirty-nine, Mihail Jora, both an authority on music and, as one of the First World War’s disabled veterans (he had lost a leg), an important figure of the Romanian public life, was appointed from the very beginning of radio broadcasting in our country (November 1, 1928) as the institution’s musical advisor and, shortly afterwards, as its director of music programmes. Jora put all his talent and knowledge in their projection, and, as all music programmes were back then live, he even played, more than once, sitting down at the piano and improvising when the invited performers’ punctuality left much to be desired. As well, when the audience insistently asked for folk or pop music, Jora wouldn’t give in, and would always plead in favour of value and diversity.

With perseverance, Mihail Jora fought for a symphonic season and for a permanent orchestra to serve it, as only five of the instrumentalists were then full-time employees; he succeeded, and, apart from being the mind behind everything, he conducted himself a significant number of concerts. Those first years had another particularity: as the studio was not equipped with seating (the present Radio Concert Hall, or the "Mihail Jora” Studio, being in use only from 1961), there was a complete absence of public - something which was deemed by some musicians as a negative factor.  As well, there were no summer breaks: the 1932 -1933 season thus began on September 1, 1932 and ended on August 31, 1933; in addition to their regular programmes, the orchestra was concurrently used in numerous other shows, and in 1931, for example, the Radio Orchestra ensured a 70% of the music programmes.

Here are some pictures with the Radio Orchestra during the 1929 -1930 season. It comprised then fourteen members: 

A bigger Radio Orchestra, in the 1930 – 1931 season: 

Radio listening had become, even from the first broadcast, a practice for many Romanians; in 1931 there were 316,000 radios, and as the listening of concerts and theatre plays together with friends was customary, approximately two million people benefited from the Romanian Radio broadcasts.

In an interview published on October 2, 1928 in Radio magazine, George Enescu spoke about the invention of the radio as about "a new miracle, a fairy-tale-like miracle”. The radio was back then a fresh discovery, comparable to the arrival of cinema or, closer to our time, of Internet. Radio represented the first great revolution in communication: it was instantaneous, it covered large geographical areas and it was relatively easily accessible to everyone. Classical music was the first to have everything to gain: it became a value within the reach of all, especially of those (and they were the majority) who had never had access to a concert hall. It must also be added that the founding of the Romanian Radio happened not long after radio had become common: the BBC, for instance, was created in 1922.

As for the audience that the Romanian Radio had in 1941, there was a radio for approximately forty-four people (our country had then a population of 13,535,757). "In 1932, the Romanian Radio had 150,000 subscribers; in Bucharest, around 30,000 listeners enjoyed its symphonic concerts – and, of course, many more music lovers across the country would gather around their radios when there was classical music being broadcast”, remarks Octavian Lazăr Cosma in his volume Symphonic Concerts at the Romanian Radio.

This was the context, characterized by new ventures and new enthusiasms as we have seen, of Dinu Lipatti’s debut as a soloist at the Romanian Radio: it happened on March 21, 1933, just after he had turned sixteen. He played then the first piano concerto by Chopin, the composer we most associate him with. The orchestra, led by Theodor Rogalski, gave a first performance, Symphonic Pages by Mansi Barberis, and played the Symphonic Variations for cello and orchestra by Léon Boëllmann and the Poetic Suite by Antonin Dvořák as well.

Lipatti returns at the Romanian Radio only seven years later, on April 16, 1940.  This time it was as a conductor that he stepped on the stage: he led the first performance of his own arrangement for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon of Six Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, as well as two works by Bach, the Concerto in C major, BWV 1061 for two pianos and orchestra (with Smaranda Atanasoff and Madeleine Cocorăscu) and the Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G major, BWV 1048.

The third, and the last, concert given by Lipatti with the Romanian Radio Orchestra dates from February 16,1943. It starred another famous name – which, coupled with the more ambitious programme, is suggestive of an increase of the orchestra’s value. That name was that of Dutch Willem Mengelberg, the longest-standing principal conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam (he held this position for fifty years, between 1895 and 1945), to whom Richard Strauss dedicated his symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben.

Mengelsberg, then seventy-two, held two concerts at the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest (the first one was on February 11). There were fears that the Radio Orchestra will not be able to cope, and there were voices who argued that the Philharmonic Orchestra would be a wiser choice. But Mengelberg rehearsed for two whole weeks imposing a Spartan schedule - from 9,00 to 13,00 with sections of the orchestra and from 15,00 to 17,00 with the entire ensemble - said afterwards, in an interview for Curentul: "I found an instrument sufficiently gifted and sufficiently supple so as to serve, as was always my wish, the works to whom I surrender myself. The musicians were attentive, careful and devoted”. 

Lipatti may not have been in the forefront, then, but this doesn’t mean he went unnoticed: Emanoil Ciomac remarked on the level attained by the Radio Orchestra in the symphonic pieces conducted by Willem Mengelberg as well as on young Lipatti’s performance. The press also noticed "the stylistic purity. […] The artistic satisfaction Mr Mengelberg offered us by his leading a compliant Radio Orchestra, and the piano played by Dinu Lipatti, were rewarded with our enthusiasm which in turn thanked the distinguished guest”, wrote Porunca vremii.

In a programme opening with Weber’s Euryanthe overture and ending with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5, Dinu Lipatti played the Piano concerto no. 1 in E flat major by Franz Liszt. Miron Șoarec writes in his book My friend Dinu Lipatti: "What an enormous success! Eight, nine curtains call for Dinu Lipatti in front of a public whose ovations brought down the house! Mengelberg himself, electrified, remained all this time on the podium, close to his stand. Noticing that Lipatti contented himself with thanking the public, after the last call he took him by the hand and sat him down at the piano. After Lipatti played his encore, the most thrilled spectator was the old master, who wouldn’t stop applauding. When the audience began to quiet down, Willem Mengelberg hugged Lipatti warmly while the public applauded” (sadly, the author doesn’t tell us what the encore Lipatti played was).