Alfred Brendel. 2019. The Lady from Arezzo. My musical life and other matters London: Faber and Faber. 125 pp.
The “other matters” referred to in the subtitle are mostly items of nonsense verse for which Brendel has a liking; at 89 that can be excused. There is also an essay on Dada which I found not very interesting (presumably Dada would have approved).
Alfred Brendel’s essays on music here are less substantial than his previous writings. Again understandable. A short but informative piece on Haydn’s Seven Last Words; an essay on compositions in major and minor keys; an essay which is both about Schubert’s Winterreise abd a book review of Ian Bostridge’s Schubert’s Winter Journey: anatomy of an obsession (also published by Faber & Faber); and very interesting performance notes on Schumann’s Piano Concerto (Brendel likes Dinu Lipatti’s recording but not that of Alfred Cortot).
The final essay, My Musical Life is very fine; Brendel understates his musical achievements and partnerships. And his wit. By design not autobiographical (no mention of Alfred Brendel’s two wives and four children) but he clearly values his privacy. There is some similarity with the career of András Schiff and even (just a bit) Richter, in that they negotiated the second world war and aftermath, and shared a classical-romantic piano repertoire. I’ll need to find a 1933 recording of Chopin’s Preludes by Alfred Cortot and Edwin Fischer’s performance of Bach’s F minor Concerto. And a Wilhelm Furtwängler recording of Tristan with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Early in his career Brendel had 3 masterclasses from Edwin Fischer and never forgot it. Brendel also ‘blames’ Edwin Fischer’s attainments in Bach recordings for his own reluctance to perform and record Bach. Many amusing travel anecdotes. Brendel’s tours to Japan, Australia, Israel, South America were beset with poor pianos. He praises the planning logistics of Mr Moses, his promoter in Australia, who had a collection of extremely sharp axes.
In Ballarat, a particularly chilly Australian place, I told the freezing public that I just wished I had an axe on hand to demolish their concert grand.