This collection combines Musical thoughts and afterthoughts (1977) and Music Sounded Out (1998), with essays from Alfred Brendel on Music (2007) and reflections written since his retirement in 2007.
His forensic analysis of humour in Haydn and Beethoven (‘The sublime in reverse’) sends us urgently back to the music – how can one ever hear Haydn’s last sonata in the same way again? – as does his insight that it was Liszt’s inner bitterness that propelled his late pieces into the future. We still need reminding that this was the composer who wrote Bagatelle without Tonality: how often is it performed? His seminal defence of the greatness of late Schubert is freshly relevant: the sonatas are gaining ground, but in Russia, for example, are still not widely taught.
What’s new? We can observe his suspicion of the period instrument movement gradually melting as quality improves, though he’s still waspish on dogmatic stylistic mannerisms, mourns the decline of the ‘Chopin specialist’ and makes a deft case for the live recording. In a fascinating essay on the evolution of repertoire in his lifetime, ‘Music Life in Flux’, he points out that it was the neo-classical Hindemith, Stravinsky and Frank Martin that dominated central Europe after the second world war, not the avant-garde. His quiet plea for the autonomy of the individual musician in a piece on Il Sistema carries considerable weight. Perhaps we get closest to his quirky character in his (translated) conversations with Martin Meyer: when asked how he would like things to have been different, he retorts, ‘I wrote scripts for Buñuel and designed the Graz Dada Memorial.’
A note of lofty complacency enters a reflection on his recording career. The implication that his numerous sonata cycles were the simply the result of good preparation and turning up on time is – amusing. A volume to be treasured.