Alfred Brendel may well be the last of his kind. These days the conventional route to pianistic stardom is through competitions. The big prizes generally go to someone improbably young, strikingly photogenic and possessed of a black-belt technique. Of these qualities, Brendel has only one. Though no Myleene Klass, he takes a good picture - his brow quizzically furrowed, his face full of absurd amusement at life. His piano technique is sure, but has never been pyrotechnic. He came third in the only competition he ever entered. "Self-discovery is a slower progress," he once said, "but a more natural one." His career was slow to take off: it was built on solid accretion of recording - an option likely to be denied all but a handful of artists in future.
Brendel has announced that he will give his final concert in December next year, by which time he will be 77. That gives us just over 12 months in which to savour the last great pianist in the tradition of Schnabel, Backhaus, Fischer, Kempff and Serkin. It is a school characterised by meticulous musicianship, intellect, severity and utter respect for the score. Few living pianists have thought more deeply about the music they play, or spoken or written about it more articulately. It is typical that not until the age of 70 did he turn to Mozart's sonatas - fiendishly difficult because of their very simplicity. The last piece the old man will play in public (in Vienna) will be Mozart's concerto K 271 - the "Jeunehomme". It will be quite a moment.