The philosopher king of European pianists,

a vital presence for half a century --


The New Yorker



photo: Barbara Klemm


For 60 years, pianist Alfred Brendel enjoyed a distinguished international career concentrating on the works of central European composers from Bach to Schoenberg as well as featuring many works by Liszt. He was the first pianist to record Beethoven’s complete piano works and was highly influential in getting Schubert’s Piano Sonatas and the Schoenberg Piano Concerto recognized as integral parts of the piano repertoire. His extensive discography has contributed to making him one of the most respected artists of our time. Mr. Brendel performed regularly at the world’s top musical venues and festivals, and with leading orchestras and conductors, and, at the age of 78, he made a deliberate choice to retire from the concert stage, performing in public for the last time with the Vienna Philharmonic on December 18, 2008.  Since then he has devoted himself to his literary pursuits and numerous other interests.

Mr. Brendel’s most recent book, titled Music, Sense and Nonsense (2015) is divided into three parts. The first is a collection of essays about the individual composers who were the absorbing preoccupation of Brendel’s performance years (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt).  The second section consists of some dozen chapters on performance, teachers, pianos, and recording. The final section is devoted to conversations Mr. Brendel has had over the years with cultural writers.   Brendel’s style in writing and talking about the pieces and composers he has spent most of his life with is characteristically aphoristic and unsentimental. In the words of Alan Rusbridger writing in The Guardian, (September 24, 2015):

It is difficult to think of any other living figure who could have produced a book like this.  He writes as a pianist, with all the practical and musical insights that come with more than 60 years of playing at the highest level. His prose is in (very elegant) English, yet his life and thinking are rooted in German and Austrian culture. He is scholarly, but with an irrepressible sense of the absurd.  His frames of reference include art, literature, politics and film.” 

Having received honorary degrees from many universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and McGill, Mr. Brendel was awarded an honorary KBE in 1989. In 1992 he received the Hans von Bülow Medal from the Berlin Philharmonic and was granted Honorary Membership of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1998. In 2001, he received the “Lifetime Achievement” awards at the MIDEM Cannes Classical Awards, Deutscher Schallplattenpreis, and the Edison Awards in Holland, as well as of the “Beethoven Ring” from the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna. He has received the Leonie Sonning Prize, the Robert Schumann Prize, the 2002 South Bank Show Classical Music Award, the 2004 Ernst von Siemens Prize, the 2007 Venice Rubinstein Prize “A Life for Music”, the 2008 Karajan Prize, the 2009 Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo, and the 2010 Gramophone “Lifetime Achievement” Award.

Mr. Brendel has also published more than a dozen  books including Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts and Music Sounded Out, the latter of which was awarded the 1990 Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for writing. A volume of collected essays, Alfred Brendel on Music, was released in January 2001 to mark his 70th birthday. His volume of German poems, Spiegelbild und schwarzer Spuk, was translated and published in French, Italian and Dutch. Two English selections, One Finger Too Many and Cursing Bagels, appeared in the Faber Poetry Series. The bilingual edition of collected poems, Playing the Human Game (Phaidon Press 2010), is widely available. A book of conversations with Martin Meyer, Ausgerechnet ich, was published in 2001. The English version was published in 2002 under the title The Veil of Order. In 2012, Mr. Brendel published A bis Z eines Pianisten (Hanser Verlag 2012). The English version, A Pianist’s A to Z: A Piano Lover’s Reader, was published in September 2013 by Faber, and was also published in French, Italian, Spanish and Korean.

Alfred Brendel has given lectures, poetry readings and masterclasses at the Festivals of Salzburg and Verbier, the Vienna Musikverein and Konzerthaus, the Wigmore Hall in London, and music universities and concert halls throughout Europe. His North American teaching activities include the Juilliard School, New York University, Berkeley, CAL Performances, McGill, Harvard, Princeton and Yale. He has taught at the Cité de la Musique in Paris, and as guest professor in Cambridge. Alfred Brendel studied piano and composition in Zagreb and Graz, completing his piano studies with Edwin Fischer, Paul Baumgartner and Eduard Steuermann.