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Alfred Brendel

Schubert Piano Sonatas 

Melbourne Recital Centre
07 February 2024

Given the unalloyed delight of hearing the English pianist Paul Lewis’s magnificent traversal of the late sonatas of Schubert, it is hard to believe that these pieces, now so central to the piano repertoire, were once so peripheral, so neglected, as to be considered at worst non-existent or, at best, gemütlich items of curiosity. The latter view was neatly encapsulated by the great Schubert virtuoso, Alfred Brendel. In the early 1960s, he was on a recital tour of South America when Pope John XXIII died. In Buenos Aires, Brendel was politely asked if he could change his program to rid it of the Schubert Sonata in A. The reason: ‘It could arouse frivolous associations because of Lilac Time.’ Brendel explained that the sonata was ‘a profoundly tragic piece’, and played it as planned.

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The concert pianist Alfred Brendel is one of the leading twentieth-century interpreters of music, with a special interest in the German repertoire. When he retired in 2008 after six decades of performing, he did so not through loss of stamina, but because of crippling arthritis in his hands. Brendel continues, at eighty-three, to teach, lecture, and write. (His poetry collection, Playing the Human Game [2011] contains one of the most damning attacks on that well-known pest, the concert cougher.) A Pianist’s A–Z explores his personal relationship with the piano. It covers the classical repertoire, offering insights, asides, reflections, and the occasional and excruciatingly corny joke.

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