Alfred Brendel Gives Master Class
26 November 2009 | Franz Felicius
Alfred Brendel is classical-music royalty. He is a pianist who burst onto the scene in the late 1950s and who has since maintained his own identifiable sound and approach. Brendel’s recordings of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt are staples for music lovers. The Horowitz Piano Series, in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall at Yale, brought Brendel, who retired as a performing artist almost a year ago, to give a lecture with performed musical examples called “On Character in Music.”
Brendel read his essay «Musical Character(s) in Beethoven Piano Sonatas» from his book «Alfred Brendel on Music». The premise of his lecture was that “perception of character and atmosphere is no less important than that of form and structure.” Brendel further compared the performer’s task to that of «a character actor identifying with different roles».
In a lecture devoted to Beethoven sonatas, it was interesting that he both began and ended with references to Schoenberg, who believed, Brendel asserted, that character in music was an essential consideration while composing. Once Brendel fixed on the Beethoven sonatas, his examples were comprehensive and far-reaching, demonstrating everything from motivic «foreshortening» in Op. 2, No. 1, to the ways that contrasting characters in the opening movement of the sonata Op. 54 are synthesized in the second movement.
When Brendel played the opening of the rondo of the Waldstein sonata, he took a slower tempo than many pianists do, and he used the pedal to delicately allow harmonies to rub against one another. It was an evocative and memorable interpretation. Brendel imagined character formed from speech using the largo of the Op. 7 sonata.
Brendel’s musical demonstrations flowed seamlessly throughout his lecture, and at several points one could overhear quiet exclamations coming from various points in the audience as connections were made.
Hearing Brendel lecture on character in Beethoven revealed insights into Brendel’s character, and showed him to be quite a character himself.