playing the human game


‘I belong to no tribe,’ says Alfred Brendel, taking tea at his home in Hampstead, surrounded by some of the books that constitute his vast library. ‘I follow no creed, subscribe to no ideology, and I despise nationalism. I have lived in many places but wherever I go I am a paying guest.’ If you wanted a single statement to do justice to this extraordinary man, that would do pretty well. It is the expression of a well-travelled, well-read, well-versed man in language that is by turns serious and playful. With his immense learning, worn lightly, and a highly developed sense of irony and absurdity, Brendel is every inch a central European. He may have lived in London for four of his eight decades, and be a honorary knight of the realm, but nobody has ever taken him for an Englishman. In the most important sense, though, Brendel does belong to a tribe: the kingdom of artists. Like Goethe, of whom it was said that he represented a culture in himself, Brendel takes nourishment from all aspects of European civilisation. One of the supreme pianists of the past century, who retired from the concert platform three years ago, he was a painter in his youth, ‘and I’m still looking at paintings, most gratefully’. He has written brilliantly around the subject of music in several collections of essays, and is an acclaimed poet. Harold Pinter read six poems at Brendel’s 70th birthday celebrations ten years ago, and last year saw the publication of his collected work, Playing the Human Game.

more from Michael Henderson at The Spectator here.