Alfred Brendel is a pianist and author of several books of 
essays and poetry. A new edition of his collected musical essays is due 
to be published this summer.
 (June 2015)

Some Winter Wonders

Ian Bostridge at the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales, 2012
Is Schubert, among great composers, the most immediately moving? I would think so. But he was also the most phenomenal in the amount of work he produced. Even next to the prodigious output of Bach and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, Schubert’s accomplishments seem truly inconceivable, considering that he lived for …

A Pianist’s A–V

Gustav Klimt: Schubert at the Piano, 1899; destroyed by fire in May 1945
There are exceptional cases where events from the composer’s life can be traced in the music. Beethoven, in his Sonata op. 110, composed the experience of returning to life after a severe case of jaundice. Similarly, Schoenberg in his String Trio turned a major health crisis into sound. And Brahms conceived his D-Minor Piano Concerto under the impact of Schumann’s plunge into the Rhine. Generally, however, the desire to link tendencies and incidents in an artist’s life to his compositions will lead us astray. The notion that a griever longs to compose his grief, a dying musician the experience of dying, or a person overwhelmed with joy his gaiety belongs in the realm of fairy tales.

Beethoven’s Musical Characters

Each sonata by Beethoven has its own particular character. But is this really anything more than a platitude? Should we still be clinging to such concepts as “character” and “atmosphere”? Aren’t the musical cognoscenti interested primarily in understanding “structure,” leaving something as vague as “poetic associations” to amateurs? And haven’t …

Two Poems

When Christo had wrapped the Three Tenors on the balcony of La Scala the civilized world fell unnaturally silent Falsetto supplications barely audible through the sackcloth were registered in horror and glee by opera lovers attending the spectacle but where that desperate …

On Isaiah Berlin (1909 – 1997)

Michael Ignatieff He was born in the twilight of imperial Russia and he was buried on a grey Friday morning at the end of the century in the Jewish section of Oxford’s Wolvercote cemetery. At the age of seven, he watched the banners of the Russian Revolution waving below the …

On Playing Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto

July 21, 1977, Venice. Astrology, whose influence began to decline with Copernicus, lost every vestige of intellectual respectability with Newton, was derided in the nineteenth century as a medieval superstition, is now taught in universities, packaged and sold to the masses, held in the highest esteem by avantgarde artists. Karlheinz …

On Wilhelm Furtwängler

Wilhelm Furtwängler was the performing musician who, more than any other, provided me with the criteria for judging a performance. Not that I knew him personally; my career had just begun when Furtwängler’s ended during the 1950s, and partnership with a great conductor of his age would have been no …

The Pianist and the Program

“Le concert, c’est moi.” When Liszt wrote to the Princess Belgiojoso that, in this pronouncement, he was affecting the style of Louis XIV, he had just launched a new type of public concert: the solo recital.[^1] To be precise, the announcement in London used the plural “Recitals on the Pianoforte,” …

Schubert’s Last Sonatas

To my knowledge, Artur Schnabel and Eduard Erdmann were the first pianists to play Schubert’s last three sonatas in one evening. After one of my own performances of this wonderful, if strenuous, program, a Viennese newspaper pronounced that even if I, as somebody who had turned his back on Vienna, …

The Noble Liszt

Do composers gain from posthumous anniversaries? If their greatness is well enough established, the playing of their lesser-known works may further enhance their reputation; if unduly neglected, they may be helped out of their oblivion. Those afflicted by a history of chronic misrepresentation, pervasive malice, and lingering doubt stand the …

A Mozart Player Gives Himself Advice

“Unmistakably, Mozart takes singing as his starting point, and from this issues the uninterrupted melodiousness which shimmers through his compositions like the lovely forms of a woman through the folds of a thin dress” (Busoni). Let this be the first warning to the Mozart performer: piano playing, be it ever …