Monday, February 27, 2012


Master Musician – Great Pianist

Now that he has retired from the concert platform, do we call him a past master? No, he is still in our minds a master and we salute him.

Who showed more teeth when performing, Alfred Brendel or Ken Dodd? Alfred hated waiting in the artists' room; he always hurtled onto the platform as if he could not wait to get on with the music. For many years his fingers oozed blood so that his fingers were covered with band-aids " I am the only pianist who cannot play unless he is plastered."

He obviously likes playing with words as well as piano keys so it was no great surprise when he started to write poetry; it is published and he has even had some of his poems set to music by Harrison Birtwistle. In his early days, he had many concerts in Germany and his native Austria with his baritone friend Hermann Prey. Their tours entailed many rail journeys and while waiting for trains they used to make funny faces into those four-shot photograph booths that you find on platforms, acting out lines from Schubert's Winterreise or Die Schöne Müllerin. Another. Another habit was collecting misprints. Alfred would hand you the latest from his wallet and scan your face eagerly until you got the joke when he would explode with laughter.

On the contrary, his performances were very serious, just occasionally to the point of being on the intellectual side when he could lose his spontaneity, over-phrasing simple tunes.

He researched music texts thoroughly, not even trusting so called Urtexts, searching out the original autographs whenever possible. At his usual best, his playing was a perfect blend of head and heart, backed up by technical perfection. Playing Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert and Weber (his playing of W's Konzertstuck was like a romantic dream), Liszt (in his early days), Busoni and Schönberg, peerless, he was one of the greatest pianists of his day.

He settled in Hampstead in a house full of native art; and when the house next door became available, he bought that too, so as not to be overheard by neighbours.

He became interested in the piano's innards in his constant search for a good piano, knowing just enough about things like pricking the felts as to be a bit of a menace to the piano tuners and technicians. He is obviously a good teacher – as witness his star student, Imogen Cooper. Marriages: two; children, also two, a son and a daughter. Adrian is a fine cellist, often playing recitals with his father.

Long may he enjoy his retirement!

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