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Proving once more that old (sic) pianists needn’t just fade away when they retire from the concert platform, another Brendel volume to stick on the shelf, which further supplements his globe-trotting as lecturer/masterclass giver.

The title might stir apprehension that the master of the profound has wandered downmarket. (After all, my search for the book online came up alongside Piano for Dummies). Rest assured. The form is what it is – an a to z with many of the limitations that generally implies – but the content remains absorbing and often thought-provoking.

That content ranges from Brendel’s miniature essays on a multitude of facets of the pianist’s art – from syncopation, balance and legato to pedalling, endings and the crescendo – to his thoughts on composers with whom he is especially associated (not always as extensively written about here as you might imagine).

Also on offer is a potpourri of random musical subjects and reminiscences, among them coughing in the concert hall, the quirky Querflügel 19th-century keyboard and Brendel’s meeting with a coloratura soprano by the name of ‘Miliza Korjus – rhymes with gorgeous’. Yes, there’s plenty of humour, right down to the final ‘Y’ (Yuck) and ‘Z’ (Zvonimir – one-time Croat king with apparently no musical connections at all. Joke.).

Here and there Brendel has a pop at elements of the modern musical scene, such as the ‘concert grands of recent decades [which have] progressively tended toward the harsh and percussive’. Now and again come opinions to provoke disputation from the safety of our armchairs. For example, Brendel tackles the old chestnut of whether ‘delving into the biography of artists ensures a deeper perception of their art’. He says no. From my reclining position I’d say it all depends.

A slim volume with slimline entries, ideal for bedside or smallest room. And a guaranteed-to-please gift for musical friends.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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