Lipatti in the Memory of his Students

Another Lipatti / Teacher

Honest, suave, modest, open: words which define Dinu Lipatti’s personality and pianism, words which were uttered by some of his students at the Geneva Music Conservatory who spoke about their pianist professor.

On September 29, 2010, Béla Siki, Hungarian pianist and professor born in Budapest and naturalized in the United States of America, remembered Lipatti in an interview for Radio România Muzical.

"In 1947 I left Hungary to go and study in Switzerland with Edwin Fischer, who had heard me play in Budapest. Upon my arrival in Switzerland, in September 1947, I decided that first I would visit Geneva, and especially the small museum at the Conservatoire showing relics of Liszt’s staying in Geneva, in 1835 and 1836. I had a good Hungarian friend who had left our country earlier than me, and he was showing me around. When we left the small Liszt museum, located on the second floor of the Conservatoire, we bumped into a gentleman of short stature and big black eyes. After the usual excuses, we went our way and I asked my friend, who seemed to know the gentleman, who he was. He looked at me and said, ”Don’t you know him? He is Lipatti!”. I had never heard this name until then, and I asked my friend who Lipatti was. He said, « He is a professor here – but come, let’s go home, and I will play you a record ». We went to his apartment, and we put on his record player the chorale from Bach’s cantata Jesu bleibet meine Freude. I listened, and I had a shock. I had never heard the piano played like this. I went back to my hotel and started thinking what I should do: Edwin Fischer was expecting me, but this man of short stature is the one with whom I wanted to learn. After a night without sleep, I took my decision: I will stay here and become Lipatti’s student - without realising that Lipatti spoke Romanian and French, and I was speaking Hungarian and German. The Geneva Conservatoire had entrance examinations a few days later. I played, and I have been accepted as a student in Lipatti’s class. In 1947 he was thirty years old, and I was twenty-four. This is the way it started.

Unfortunately I studied only one year with him. However, I have been in his inner circle, I went many times to his apartment and played him my new repertoire. In the fall of 1948, a year after I had come to Geneva, I was one of the participants in the Geneva International Piano Competition, and I was awarded first prize. By then, Lipatti’s health had become, little by little, weaker, and he couldn’t keep his concert tours any longer.

From the first meeting on, I was lucky enough to have Lipatti treat me as a colleague, almost, rather than as as student. He never gave me, or forced me, to play a particular repertoire. But I did learned the usual repertoire - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, etc., as well as other Romantics. It happened only later, actually, in 1949, that I asked him if he would entrust me with a composition of his (he had studied composition with Nadia Boulanger while being Alfred Cortot’s student in Paris). He then gave me a composition he had written in Romania for the birthday of his composition teacher. It was the Sonatina for the left hand, a short but excellent work. I have played it many times and I have recorded it for Columbia Records.

This one year with Lipatti was the most important period of my life. Even when I was a professor at the Geneva Conservatoire myself, I went, whenever his health allowed, to play for him my new repertoire, and he would help me improve it. I learned from him to analyse in depth the music I play, and, from the printed page, to rebuild the work as close as possible to the music the composer must have heard before he took that piece of paper to write it down.

Lipatti, by his education, was a gentleman in the true sense of the word. He came from a distinguished family. He was very well educated. If you ask me what Lipatti was like, I can only answer, he was a gentleman. He carried a terrible inborn illness which killed him at age thirty-three, and the best doctors of the world could not save him, but his intellect and his artistry were in the best conditions. When I met him he was thirty, but I had the impression I was in front of someone well over the middle age. From March 1950 he went through all sorts of treatments, and I drove him to the various doctors. It was a provisional treatment, but even so, it took much out of his already declining forces. Back at home, he had to walk up four floors, as the house he lived in had no elevator. I almost had to carry him up. Half-way up there was a chair; there he could sit down and rest a little. During one of these rests, he told me that he had not much left to live, and that he didn’t mind dying, but what will become of Madeleine?

When Lipatti left us, one of the greatest left us.

I was honoured to mark the first anniversary of his death with two concerts alongside Madeleine Lipatti, playing Lipatti’s Symphonie concertante, first in Besançon, with the Orchestre National under the direction of George Enescu who knew Lipatti as a child, and then in Geneva, with the Suisse Romande Orchestra led by Ernest Ansermet.