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Culture

Pianist Alfred Brendel turns 80 and finds second career as a poet

Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel no longer takes the concert stage, but he is captivating audiences with his writing instead. At an age when many want nothing but rest, he claims he is still developing creatively.

Alfred Brendel accepts applause at his farewell concert in Vienna on December 18, 2008

Recognized for his skills as both pianist and poet, Brendel is a multi-talent

Alfred Brendel gave his last concert in December 2008. Despite turning 80 on January 5, the renowned musician is still a busy man, dividing his time between musical lectures, master classes and readings of his own poetry across Europe.

Famous for his interpretations of pieces by classical Germanic composers like Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, Brendel can look back on a successful career as a concert pianist that spanned nearly six decades. But his poetry, which has been praised as "genuine comic literature" by German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, is sending a new wave of attention in his direction.

"I mapped out exactly what I would do when I retired," Brendel told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in a recent interview. "For a long time I had a literary life - not a hobby, a second life - and it is nice to pursue lecturing and writing in a more focused way."

To mark Brendel's 80th birthday, a collection of these poems is being published in a new, bilingual edition (English and German) by Phaidon Press. Additionally, the album "A Birthday Tribute," containing his favorite live recordings, has been released by Decca Records.

Sheet music

Brendel was the first to record Beethoven's complete solo piano works

Passion for music, writing and art

Brendel was born on January 5, 1931 in Wiesenberg, northern Moravia, which is now the Czech Republic. His family was not musical, but he started playing the piano at the age of six, giving his first concert in Graz at age 17. His international career began in 1949, and music remains a central inspiration for him.

"If you play the right pieces - the ones really worth playing and worth spending your entire life on - they turn out to be sources of strength, centers of energy that constantly emit new energy and regenerate the strength of the performer," Brendel told Deutsche Welle. "That's why this profession is one of great privilege."

However, Brendel - who was the first pianist ever to record the complete solo piano works of Beethoven - also wanted to explore other forms of expression.

"I always had a need not just to play, but also to write," said Brendel. "In my youth I also painted for some time. I gave this up a while ago, but it has become increasingly important for me to observe: I go to museums, exhibitions. I'm actually interested in everything aesthetic - in films and in theater."

Passing on his experience

Alfred Brendel

Brendel's musicality is still improving, according to the star pianist

Brendel's involvement in training and giving lectures for young pianists is another source of expression for him these days. He finds that this activity has given him greater insight into the music he loves.

"Even though I have stopped playing, my musicality is still developing," Brendel told The Daily Telegraph. "I notice when I teach that the clarity and speed of my musical vision has actually improved."

He feels that stepping off the concert stage two years ago was the right decision, but at the same time he is happy to still be in the spotlight.

"You know, when I retired, I was sure everyone would forget about me," Brendel, who has been living in Britain since 1971, revealed in The Daily Telegraph interview. "It is very nice to be proved wrong."

Author: Eva Wutke, Klaus Gehrke (dpa)
Editor: Greg Wiser

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