My introduction of Alfred Brendel last night in Boston:
In classical music, there are those who believe that thinking about music can compromise feeling — compromise our emotional response to music. Alfred Brendel’s example vividly shows us that such notions are foolish. Mr. Brendel scrutinizes the canonic texts of the piano repertory. He examines the behaviors of piano playing and musical life, and he’s shown that deep reflection can yield (not impede) a heightened emotional and even spiritual connection to the muses.
To a young pianist, it was a powerful example. From the high balcony at Carnegie Hall, I overheard Mr. Brendel grapple with Beethoven’s music. I recall the thrill of anticipation I felt just buying the tickets for one of his Beethoven cycles. And then:
I had been, let us say, to hear
(From highest Carnegie incline)
The latest Fōld of the great garment of Beethoven’s sonatas
Transmitted by Mr. Brendel through his hair and fingertips …
(And for that, apologies to Mr. Brendel and to T. S. Eliot.)
From that high place — from those cheap seats — I witnessed probing and unforgettable performances: of Schubert’s and Beethoven’s music, of Liszt’s Sonata, of the Two Saint Francis Legends, of Robert Schuman’s C-Major Fantasy. On those occasions, control was “in league with chance,” as Mr. Brendel has described an ideal.
Through Mr. Brendel’s words, as well, provocative guidance has been offered. There are many well-worn copies of Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts, and Music Sounded Out. Alfred Brendel has led generations of musicians “away from the piano, and to themselves.”
Mr. Brendel has written of “the unseen hand” that can grip an audience and a player. I will paraphrase a passage from his essay, “On Recitals and Programmes”:
There has been a spiritual link between Alfred Brendel and his public — an intense physical experience, unique and unrepeatable, tied to a specific time in history, tied to the sounds of particular halls and instruments, to the sudden bursts of the athlete, and the peregrinations of the poet. All has been well, and Mr. Brendel’s mastery has only been surpassed by the grip of an unseen hand, that has kept its hold over a player and his listeners alike for decades — a few timeless moments… Through a long and magnificent career, he has brought us to an understanding, and a love, that we didn’t know ourselves to be capable of.
Mr. Brendel, thank you.