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Is this the greatest pianist of the 20th century?

A terminally ill Dinu Lipatti performing at his final recital in September 1950
A terminally ill Dinu Lipatti performing at his final recital in September 1950

Soon after his career took off, Dinu Lipatti’s health began to deteriorate. But his acute sense of mortality made his music even better, says Orlando Murrin 

At 5pm on September 16, 1950, a packed audience at Besançon in eastern France witnessed one of the most extraordinary events in musical history. A frail, haunted young man staggered on to the platform and sat down at the piano; the audience held its breath. It seemed impossible that someone so palpably near death could play a recital; his doctors – everyone – had begged him to cancel.

But the young man had demurred – the event had been sold out for weeks, dozens of people without tickets were clustered outside the hall, desperate to hear what they could, and he had refused to let them down.

“I have promised,” Dinu Lipatti said, “and I have to play.”

After the thunderous applause died down, the pale-faced Lipatti started to play a couple...

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