Best of Brendel: the pianist on YouTube

Watch samples of Alfred Brendel's best work, chosen from the composers with whom he's most closely associated

Since the 1950s, Alfred Brendel has been one of the most prolific recording and concert artists in the world. He has just been honoured with Gramophone's 2010 lifetime achievement award. These YouTube clips, chosen from some of the composers he is most closely associated with – and whom he discusses in his interview with me today – give a sense of the brilliance and clarity of his playing. He is also a published poet (One Finger Too Many and Cursing Bagels) and a prolific speaker and writer on music (Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts and On Music, Collected Essays).

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, opus 106, Hammerklavier (recorded 1970)

The young Brendel here plays one of the few pieces (slow movement only) the older Brendel admits he still plays for pleasure, and which he describes as "at the outer limits of what a composer of sonatas can achieve".

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, opus 111: I (recorded Japan, 1995)

Brendel's poem Trill is about a levitating pianist performing this work. He has described Beethoven's final piano sonata, a work of contrasting animation and repose, as "distilled experience" and a "prelude to silence".

Schubert Impromptu No. 3 in G Flat Major opus 90/3 D899

Schubert, one of the composers Brendel has championed above all, needs a particular singing quality in this Impromptu. Brendel achieves it in the repeated use of the fifth finger of his right hand (watch at around 1:05, especially where the camera is in close-up on his hands).

Mozart Piano Sonata in C minor K457

In Brendel's beloved key of C minor, this Sonata reminds us, as the pianist has long argued, that Mozart is far from the "sweet, tender, pampered" figure he was once regarded as, achieving in this music something "superhuman" and "sublime".

Liszt, Sonata in B minor (recorded Japan, 1985)

"I know I am compromising myself by speaking up for Liszt," Brendel said in 1961, going on to say that if this flamboyant composer, with his swooning female followers, is regarded as "hollow, superficial and pretentious", the fault usually lies with the performer. "A rehabilitation of Liszt is overdue," he went on, and set about doing exactly that.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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