Alfred Brendel is a pianist and the author of several books of essays and poetry, most recently Music, Sense and Nonsense: Collected ­Essays and Lectures.
 (October 2016)


The Growing Charm of Dada

Dadaglobe Reconstructed

an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich, February 5–May 1, 2016; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, June 12–September 18, 2016

Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction

an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich, June 3–September 25, 2016; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, November 21, 2016–March 19, 2017
Dada was not a fashion, a style, or a doctrine. It was more than a footnote to cultural history. We can better understand it as a condition, a spirit, a productive state of mind that has remained alive.

Some Winter Wonders

Ian Bostridge at the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales, 2012

Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession

by Ian Bostridge
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 …