Alfred Brendel

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Alfred Brendel, 2010

Alfred Brendel (born 5 January 1931) is an Austrian pianist, poet and author.


  • Those who look for contradictions will be amply satisfied. The profession of a performer is full of paradoxes, and he has to learn to live with them. He has to forget himself and control himself; he has to observe the composer's wishes to the letter and create the music on the spot; he has to be part of the music market and yet retain his integrity.
    • Alfred Brendel (1976), as cited in: Benny Shanon (2013). The Representational and the Presentational. p. 380.
  • Edwin Fischer was, on the concert platform, a short, leonine, resilient figure, whose every fiber seemed to vibrate with elemental musical power. Wildness and gentleness were never far from each other in his piano-playing, and demonic outbursts would magically give way to inner peace. It was as little trouble to him (as Alfred Polgar once said of an actor) to lose himself as to find himself.
    His playing of slow movements was full of an unselfconsciousness beside which the music-making of others, famous names included, seemed academic or insincere. With Fischer, one was in more immediate contact with the music: there was no curtain before the soul when he communicated with the audience. One other musician, Furtwangler, conveyed to the same degree this sensation of music not being played, but rather happening by itself.
    • As cited in: Ruth Hanna Sachs, ‎D. E. Heap, ‎Joyce Light (2005). White Rose History, Volume II (Academic Version). p. 366
  • If I belong to a tradition, it is a tradition that makes the masterpiece tell the performer what to do, and not the performer telling the piece what it should be like, or the composer what he ought to have composed.
    • Studs Terkel (2006). And They All Sang: The Great Musicians of the 20th Century Talk about Their Music. p. 287
  • I am accountable to the composer, but I am also there to communicate something to the listener. I am not delivering a soliloquy, but am somewhere in the middle.
    • As cited in: Nicky Losseff, ‎Jennifer Ruth Doctor (2007), Silence, Music, Silent Music, p. 170
  • The word 'listen' contains the same letters as the word 'silent'.
    • Cited in: Karen Offord. Dare to Dream: Your Journey of a Lifetime, 2014, p. 115.
  • Hearing has its own memory. It registers the dog whose sudden barking startled me as a child. The folk songs my nanny used to sing. The dadaism of a cabaret song from Berlin: ‘I tear out one of my eyelashes and stab you dead with it,’ innocently sung by my mother. Hitler conjuring up the Almighty. The crowing voice of little Goebbels. Alarm sirens, the roar of aircraft, the blast of bombs. Ljuba Welitsch being Salome. The sonorities of Edwin Fischer’s piano playing. María Casares as Lady Macbeth in Avignon. Ralph Kirkpatrick’s two Scarlatti recitals. Gré Brouwenstijn as Leonore in Fidelio. The epiphany of Ligeti’s Aventures et Nouvelles Aventures. The magic application of noise in Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All sorts of laughter.
    • quoted in Alan Rusbridger, "Music, Sense and Nonsense by Alfred Brendel review – a great pianist’s thoughts on his art", The Guardian, 24 September 2015

Quotes about Alfred Brendel[edit]

  • Unlike Beethoven’s sonatas, but like his own song cycles, Schubert’s piano sonatas were not of a nature to inspire the need for public performance for a long time. Sviatoslav Richter’s comprehension of this special intimate nature can explain his interpretation of some of the late sonatas. his very slow tempo in the first movement of the last sonata in B-flat Major (marked only Molto moderato) excited the derision of Alfred Brendel. As I remember, Richter takes almost half an hour for this movement alone, with three more still to go. Brendel was right in thinking the tempo incorrect or inauthentic, but he also appeared not to feel that the intimacy of the work was also essential to its authenticity, and contented himself with a large- scale rendition. The movement is indeed of grand dimensions, but the paradox of schubert’s style here is the astonishing quantity of dynamic indications of pianissimo and even ppp, broken most memorably just before the repeat of the exposition by a single fierce and unexpectedly brutal playing as loudly as possible of the trill of the principal motif, heard so far only very softly (a repeat that Brendel refused to perform, perhaps because the unprepared violence is awkward in a large hall, although paradoxically more convincing in an intimate setting). Richter was an extraordinarily intelligent musician: whenever there was a significant detail in the score, it was always signaled by a reaction in his interpretation, not always, perhaps, the reaction that one would have liked, but no matter.
    • Charles Rosen, Ch. 28. "Old Wisdom and Newfangled Theory: Two One-Way Streets to Disaster" in Freedom and the arts : essays on music and literature (2012)

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