Alfred Brendel as a musical writer


Brendel’s essays and lectures are gathered in Music, Sense, and Nonsense: Collected Essays and Lectures, now being released in paperback.

In his writings, he considers sound, silence, sublimity, humor, and the performer’s critical role in the experience of music.

Brendel: “The musician wants to hear the silence. She is there before and after the sound, tacitly breathing in the rests, at times, as in Schubert’s Sonata in B flat, the source of the beginning, elsewhere, as in Beethoven’s last three Sonatas, the designation to be reached: as the withdrawal into an inner world, the throwing off of all chains, the ultimate merging with silence.”

In “A Peculiar Serenity,” Brendel writes about Busoni’s idea that musical interpretation “springs” from “sublime heights” and that, when it’s in danger of falling, Icarus-like, back to Earth, the performer must guide it back to those heights. Brendel, in kind, asserts that it’s the performer’s role to return “the creations of music” to “that elemental power beyond human concerns,” which is shared by composer and performer alike.

But if there’s going to be so much talk of the sublime, there should be just as much talk about humor. In “Must Classical Music Be Entirely Serious?” Brendel considers humor in what, to many, might seem like the least funny music imaginable. So Mozart was funny, sure, but what about Beethoven and Haydn? Yes, them too. Brendel cites the German writer and musicologist Friedrich Rochlitz, who wrote that “once Beethoven is in the mood, rough, striking witticisms, odd notions, surprising and exciting juxtapositions and paradoxes occur to him in a steady flow.” Brendel builds off this observation to reflect on Beethoven’s humorous side.

(From the article “The Writer Who Makes Perfect Sense of Classical Music”)