“Alfred Brendel on Music: Three Lectures” is just that; three
different lectures in front of an intimate audience, recorded
at the Schüttkasten, Salzburg, on three consecutive September
days in 2010. They were released as a two-DVD set by the
UNITEL label in 2011, as part of their Salzburger Festspiele
Edition. The total running time is 225 minutes.

As many pianophiles know, Alfred Brendel (1931 – ) retired
from the concert platform in December 2008. However, as
these lectures show, he still plays quite well, often illustrating
various points of his presentations while seated at the piano.
My earlier blog posts have discussed Brendel’s lecture/recital
series about Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) piano music
that were given in German, and released during the 1970’s.

It’s obvious that Brendel feels a strong desire to share his
Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts, to quote the title of a
collection of his published essays, with a discerning audience.
In a sense, perhaps he hasn’t truly retired.

At any rate, apparently these three lectures already existed
in written form. In fact, I remember reading the first one entitled,
“Does Classical Music Have to Be Entirely Serious?” years ago.
The second lecture shown was “Musical Character(s) as
Exemplified in Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas,” and Brendel
titled the third lecture, “Light and Shade of Interpretation.”
These aren’t lectures for the lay person, and presuppose an
audience familiarity with much of the music that is discussed.
Brendel’s approach to this material is very intellectual,
sometimes bordering on the cerebral.

As I see it, the problem is that he sits and reads in English
from his excellent text, without varying his tone and delivery
style. Therefore, the resulting presentations lack dynamic
vitality. This is too bad, since everything he discusses is of
great interest, and worthy of sharing. Clearly, Brendel has
given much thought to these musical matters over the years.
It’s probable that no other living musician can match his
valuable knowledge of the Beethoven Sonatas. When you
consider the wealth of information he’s sharing, it almost
seems criminal that he hasn’t honed his “lecture skills,”
to a greater degree.

That being said, I still highly recommend this set to anyone
who wishes to probe beneath the surface of the music that
is discussed, focusing primarily the music of Haydn, Mozart,
Beethoven, and Schubert, with a little Schönberg thrown in
for good measure. If only Brendel had Leonard Bernstein’s
or Michael Tilson Thomas’s pedagogical skills!