Dinu Lipatti at the Crossroads of Modern Influences
Dinu Lipatti practiced his wind writing in a series of scores which, while differing in importance and size, testify to a certain particular style. Imprinted by his master mentors Mihail Jora and Nadia Boulanger, it was also the result of intellectual meetings between Lipatti and some of his colleagues-turned-friends at the class of Nadia Boulanger: Igor Markevitch (composer of a Serenade for Violin, Clarinet and Bassoon, 1931) and especially Jean Françaix, an expert in exploring the timbral characteristics of wind instruments (Quartet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon, 1933, Septet for Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, 2 Violins, Cello and Piano, 1933, as well as the Quadruple Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Orchestra, 1935, unique in the repertoire). Sources of inspiration were of course complemented by Enescu’s compositions for winds, especially Dixtuor op. 14 written in 1906, with which Lipatti was certainly familiar.
Given the small number of works he composed – his calling was that of a brilliant pianist— Lipatti’s attention to wind instruments is more than significant. Between 1936 – 1949 he penned the Allegro for Clarinet and Bassoon (1936), a few pages from an unfinished Wind Quintet (1938), the Introduction and Allegro for Flute Solo (1939) and the Aubade for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (1949), as well as some arrangements for trio (1943) and quintet (1939) of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonatas K.173, K.515, K.427, K.450, K.247, K.538 and K.377.
Showing originality, they are a synthesis between the different ways of exploiting Romanian folklore (as taught by Mihail Jora) and the interest Lipatti took in 20th-century modern techniques (as in Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky).
Introduction and Allegro for Flute Solo
(Paris, June 11, 1939) – B. 21
His compositions for winds may be the direct result of the influence of the French composition school, but Lipatti is no less connected to the spirituality of his home land and the Romanian ethos as advocated by Mihail Jora. A last moment commission (the manuscript itself says commande rapide), this short piece for solo flute is dedicated to Roger Cortet, one of the most talented flutists of his time, graduate of (1931) and professor at (1942-53) the Conservatoire Supérieur in Paris.
Lipatti wrote it during one of his fertile periods as a composer. He had tried his hand at writing for winds in his 1938 unfinished Quintet, and the other contemporary compositions (Symphonie concertante for two Pianos and Strings, 1938, Suite for two Pianos, 1938, French nocturne in F-sharp minor, 1939, Concerto for Organ and Piano, 1939) reflect his main positions: folk-inspired sonorities blended with the refined, typically French colors and the insistent rhythms of Stravinsky.
Lipatti’s music originates in the universe of the Romanian village (which, as an enthusiast photographer, he had more than once captured through the lens of his camera). The extensive introduction (surpassing in size the ensuing Allegro) progresses in a free, rubato, doina-like tempo, the flute reminiscent, with its expressive melody, of a shepherd’s whistle. The ornamented phrases are set in a flexible rhythm and a free-form structure, as in an improvisation.
The main theme of the Allegro is taken from the wedding ritual specific to the Vrancea region, collected by Henri Brauner in 1934 and which Lipatti probably picked up from his friend, ethnomusicologist Constantin Brăiloiu. Quoted in the opening bars, it undergoes several changes by means of melodic and rhythmic variation, is periodically brought back and, transformed and diminished, concludes the work.
Allegro for Clarinet and Bassoon (December 23, 1936) – B. 7
It’s strange that Lipatti, who would spend daily several hours writing letters to his teachers and friends, shouldn’t mention this Allegro written while he was studying composition with Nadia Boulanger. A homework assigned by the celebrated pedagogue? Taking some time off from writing other, highly demanding works? (let’s not forget that in 1936 Lipatti created his most famous piece, the Concertino en style classique for Piano and Chamber Orchestra, in addition to a Fantasie for Violin, Cello and Piano and an unfinished Toccata for Strings)
In this short work, 19-year-old Lipatti proves that he masters the rules of music writing and that he is already possessed of a style which leaves conventional (tonal, modal) systems behind: he employs here the chromatic total, dividing it into motifs gravitating around the note C.
Aubade for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon
(Montana, April 21, 1949) – B. 44
This last finished work enjoys both the complexity of a mature thinking and the attention to detail: having to cancel his concerts because of his deteriorating health, he had more time for writing.
Jora’s teachings are manifest here too, again under the form of a synthesis between European influences (Bartók, Stravinsky, and an exacerbated chromaticism deriving from German Post-Romanticism) and Romanian traditions (the use of certain folk elements). This quartet “is perhaps Lipatti’s most representative composition, as the first two movements in particular are an obvious expression of his ripeness and of his Romanian folk-rooted inspiration”, says Grigore Bărgăuanu, Lipatti’s biographer and author of a detailed analysis of the Aubade.
La Moubra, Montana, April 27, 1949
“Most beloved Paul, you were born two weeks too early! At least this is what the copyist of this score told me this morning (aka Bipatte [a play on words on the pianist’s name combined with “bi” – bi-patte, two paws, author’s note]) when, panicked at the thought of your upcoming anniversary, I asked him to deliver the full order. Since this idiot of a copyist is not capable of finishing his scribbles before May 15 – and since I wouldn’t for the life of me miss your birthday – I took the liberty of sending you only half of this Aubade, promising to dispatch the last two movements as soon as this turtle-copyist will have covered the sheet of paper in ink. I wrote you this little joke in three weeks and without touching the piano, because the four movements were done lying in bed. The purpose of this Aubade was to wake you up on the morning of April 28, performed under your windows by four “holz-schwyzerli” [wind players]. Since fate decided otherwise, maybe it’s for the best, for had you not enjoyed this sui generis “wake-up call”, the four “wind-boys” would for sure have received the reward meant for the composer, that is, a bucket full of water in the head! And now let me send you our warmest regards and gratitude, we wish you the best of health, happiness, and prosperity; and for Maja, our affection – we remain ever your friends.
Yours truly, Dinu”.
This letter to Paul Sacher, quoted in full from Dinu Lipatti. Letters, vol. II, Romanian translation by Ileana Țăroi, Bucharest: Grafoart, 2017, is just an instance of the composer-pianist’s legendary humor, and Paul Sacher, conductor, friend and promotor, was often the recipient of such epistles.
Another example is the “musical letter” from September 4, 1947, when, asked by Sacher for his bank account number, Lipatti musically translated it into a short lied (see Dinu Lipatti. Letters, vol. II, pp. 302-306. Bucharest: Grafoart, 2017). It also brings up the legitimate question of a “dedication” hidden in the score, since the letters of Sacher’s name can also be read as music notes: (S)A – A♭, C, H – B♮. Indeed, the composer scatters the first movement, Prélude, with rest areas precisely on these sounds (natural or marked with accidentals) in a complex, chromatic aural fabric oscillating between tension and the brightness as given by the straightforward, tonally- and diatonically-inclined language.
The first movement Prélude (Lento) opens with a solo flute chant whose melody, in a rhapsodic Vivo-Lento alternation giving the feeling of a rubato, clearly sends to the ancient shepherd’s flute and its specific ornamentation. Like in a folk dance, instruments play mainly in pairs (flute-clarinet, oboe-bassoon), and the reprise of the initial theme, on the bassoon, seems to suggest the timbre of the traditional Romanian alphorn bucium, complementing the opening shepherd’s flute.
The second movement is a syncopated, fast-rhythm Danse (Allegretto grazioso) with a refined, fresh, and authentic humor. The instruments continue to play in pairs, just like the dancers of the original folk music which Lipatti adopted, Breaza ca la Bran (3+3+2+2+2), collected by Ghizela Sulițeanu (Muzica dansurilor populare din Muscel Argeș [Muscel Argeș Folk Dance Music]) in Bughea de Sus, Argeș county.
Things calm down in the third movement, Nocturne (Andante espressivo), where the monorhythmic accompaniment played by three of the four instruments escorts, in the section’s opening, the oboe’s melody. The voices switch roles, melodic bits and pieces complete themes in an aerated, limpid writing, respecting the golden ratio proportions (essential structural principle in the work of Bartók, which Lipatti admired).
Sun seems to rise in the last movement, Scherzo, which opens with a diatonic melody inspired, believes musicologist Monika Jäger (author of an important book about Dinu Lipatti’s compositions), by Moritz Moszkowski’s Étincelles (Sparks), Morceau characteristique op. 36, Nr. 6 (1885) by Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), one of Vladimir Horowitz’s favorite encores. Section B (Un poco più tranquillo), chorale-like, brings the dawn, a crowning of the entire work and the triumph of light. This is Lipatti continuing, despite his serious medical condition, to encourage those around him, worried, with good reason, about him (a musical conversion of the contents of ideas is left in the performers’ charge). The piece ends with a major minor seventh chord with omitted fifth, perhaps an invitation to an ulterior resolution, a question still looking for its answer.
The first performance of this quartet took place in London, on March 5, 1951, three months after the composer’s death, and was given by Gareth Morris – flute, Sidney Sutcliffe – oboe, Frederick Thurston – clarinet and Cecil James – bassoon.
At the Mysore chamber concert of twentieth-century music at Kingsway Hall last Monday, the first performance was given of the Aubade for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Dinu Lipatti, the Rumanian pianist, who died last December at the early age of 33. It is alternately pungent, humorous and graceful music, often Bartók-like in flavour, showing a sensitiveness in handling the varied tone-colours, and, for the most part, ably steering clear of the thick monotony towards which such a combination tends. Gareth Morris, Sidney Sutcliffe, Frederick Thurston and Cecil James sailed easily over its chromatic and rhythmically complex seas. (it’s a concert from the serios of concerts organized by Philharmonic Music Society at Kingsway from London, known as “Mysore Concerts”, probably after music society president, Maharajah of Mysore Kingdom)
(fragment from the concert review published in
The Times, London, March 8, 1951)
Wind Quintet (unfinished)
(Paris, September 18, 1938) – B. 17
Before composing Introduction and Allegro for Flute Solo, Lipatti had drafted the beginning of a wind quintet, dedicated to the same French virtuoso flutist Roger Cortet, founder (1928) and member, alongside oboist Louis Gromer, clarinetist André Vacellier, hornist René Reumont and bassoonist Gabriel Grandmaison, of the Quintette à vent de Paris.
Lipatti the pianist was already an important name in Paris, an active performer more and more in demand. Maybe that is the reason why he wasn’t able to finish this Quintet of which he only jotted down a Grave introduction (complete), a single-chord Andante grazioso and the opening of a final Allegro. The piece is given, for now, with only a documentary value, a challenge for contemporary composers to solve the musical dilemma herein encrypted.
Six Sonates de Scarlatti for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon
(Paris, March 1939) – B. 24
Trios Sonates de Scarlatti for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon
(November 1943) – B. 34
In his arrangements of Scarlatti’s Sonatas Lipatti is inspired by the Baroque composers and their habit of transcribing their colleagues’ work as a means to learn, to integrate stylistic and musical elements and, by such timbral translation, to learn the specifics of the targeted instruments.
Lipatti would often return to Scarlatti, probably also because Edwin Fischer’s remark that his piano technique fitted the Italian composer’s pieces encouraged him to do so. His recitals frequently included, either in the announced program or for the encore, a group of three sonatas. Canadian researcher Mark Ainley discovered one such group among the recordings that Lipatti did in a private studio; part of the pianist’s live repertoire between 1946-1949, the Sonatas in G major, D minor and B-flat major were released in 2018 after a careful restoration process. And yet another lead pointing to Lipatti’s admiration for Scarlatti can be found in his Concertino en Style Classique for Piano and Chamber Orchestra, whose third movement is written “in the classical spirit of Vivaldi and of Scarlatti in particular” (Dinu Lipatti, Basel Chamber Orchestra Communications, April 27, 1945).
Lipatti’s exercise in transcribing the Sonatas K.173, K.515, K.427 for Reed Trio and K.450, K.247, K.515, K.538, K.377, K 427 for Wind Quintet has a plurality of meanings: it aims at a complete understanding of the composer’s intention trough decomposing the sonic planes, it demonstrates how the timbre of the piano/harpsichord can be enhanced through a differentiated voice colouring, and it represents a useful chance to practice his qualities as an orchestrator and to learn the particularities of wind instruments (he would repeat the experience by orchestrating a Scarlatti sonata for large orchestra).
The 1943 trio was dedicated to the Trio d’anches de Bruxelles; as for the Six Sonatas for Wind Quintet, written between 1938-1939, they were premiered on the occasion of Lipatti’s only appearance as a conductor, during a live radio broadcast of a concert without an audience at the Romanian Radio on April 16, 1940. In the summer of that year the quintet was performed in the capital of France by the Quintette à Vent de Paris.
Bucharest, September 2020
(English translation: Ștefan Diaconu
and Maria Monica Bojin)