Alfred Brendel, the doctor, will see you now

Alfred Brendel, the doctor, will see you now


norman lebrecht

May 06, 2021

The veteran pianist, 90 years old, is to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the Cologne University of Music and Dance.

It is claimed in the citation thathe is the first pianist who recorded the complete piano works of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Wasn’t that Artur Schnabel?

Brendel is already a doctor (hon.) in London, Oxford, Yale, Cambridge and Montreal.

(Not Vienna?)


  • Gustavo says:

    Schnabel may have skipped the fantasies, rondos, bagatelles etc.?

    Besides, I would have thought that Bonn would have been the more likely Uni to promote Beethoven.

    Alas, with the Beethoven Jubilee 2020 completely screwed by Corona and the bitter-sweet aftertaste created by streaming Igor (Love-it-or-Leave-it), it is time to commemorate great uncle Alfred who rests safely tidied up in a Decca box-set on the mantelpiece.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      The next Beethoven ‘anniversary’ is only 6 years away; 2027. Hopefully by then this pandemic will only be a painful memory.

      • poyu sung says:

        Yes I also found out that. But… do we still have some older artists on stage 6 years later?

  • Claremonter says:

    The citation is correct: Brendel pioneered the complete Beethoven piano works on disc with his early Vox recording. Schnabel was the first to record the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, not the complete piano works. There is a great deal of solo Beethoven piano music beyond the 32 sonatas, including three sets of Bagatelles, the improvisatory Fantasy in G minor, and of course the great variations sets: the “Eroica” and towering “Diabelli” Variations; 32 Variations in C minor, and several others. And a lot more than this…

  • Jonathan Z says:

    Schnabel didn’t record all the Variation sets and shorter pieces. In fact in one of his many books, Brendel says that he left out some early Beethoven works, including one which he described as “deplorable”.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      do you remember which?

      • James says:

        He lists them on the first page of his “Musical thoughts and afterthoughts”, chiefly the Haibel variations, some Albumblätter, easy sonata in C maj Wo0 51, variations on March by Dressler, and other sundry Wo0 pieces.

      • Darrell says:

        From Brendel’s ‘Notes on a Complete Recording of Beethoven’s Piano Works’:

        “I must begin with a qualification: this first recording of Beethoven’s piano works, which I made for Vox-Turnabout between 1958 and 1964, is not entirely complete. There seemed to me little virtue in rescuing from oblivion works that are totally devoid of any touch of Beethoven’s mastery and originality. It was without regret, therefore, that I omitted pieces like the deplorable Haibel Variations, which could have been written by any of Beethoven’s contemporaries, as well as certain student exercises, Albumblätter, studies, sketches and curiosities, most of which were never intended for publication — pieces, that is, which are merely of interest to the historian.”


      • Brettermeier says:

        “do you remember which?”

        Jonathan probably is referring to “Alfred Brendel on music”. In the essay “Notes on a complete recording of Beethoven’s piano works” (1966) Brendel calls the Haibel Variations “deplorable”.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      This suggests a contest for SD readers: be the first to identify the most deplorable Beethoven piano work. It has been eons since I listened to his juvenilia, so I have no idea which one Brendel might have been referring to.

  • Michael Laus says:

    In ‘Musical Thoughts & Afterthoughts’, Brendel describes the Variations on the ‘Menuet à la Viganò’ by Haibel as deplorable, and also states that he omitted the entire output of Beethoven’s Bonn period from his first recording of the piano works made for Vox-Turnabout, which was thus not entirely complete.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Makes me think of my poor uncle Louis who was a complete collection freak and who bought, on one day, the complete recordings of Mahler, Brucker and Wagner to listen to in his holiday hut at the Windermere lake. But when he rowed to the other side from the Brokhole pier he sank with his treasure. Fortunately the boxes could be found later-on, but really, music can be dangerous.


  • Eusebius says:

    Anyone know what has become of Brendel’s favorite protege Kit Armstrong?

    • MWnyc says:

      The last few concert broadcasts I’ve seen with Kit Armstrong, he’s been playing fortepiano with period-instrument bands.

    • Joel stein says:

      Kit Armstrong is composing and has recorded several cds and dvds.

    • Hsiang says:

      Kit Armstrong recently played complete Mozart sonatas cycle and 15 extra recitals in Taiwan. Because good pandemic situation, concerts can be full capacity. Everybody enjoyed very much, it was great chance for Taiwan.

  • Alexander T says:

    Very overrated pianist.

  • José Bergher says:

    The famous French conductor Pierre Monteux said once, “Doctor Serge Koussevitzky…doctor Fritz Reiner…doctor Hans Kindler…I am the only conductor!”

    • Douglas Cairns says:

      I was always surprised that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf often added her honorary doctorate(s?) to her title – her artistry surely spoke for itself. (She was “Dame Commander of the British Empire” but as a non-UK citizen she could not use that title.)

  • Frankster says:

    One afternoon many years ago at the Verbier Festival, I dropped in a voice master class by Brendel. A young tenor gave a clear and precise reading of an aria to polite applause. “Wait a minute” said Brendel as he left his seat and made his way on stage. “Now I want you to sing it like you really mean it!” and stood just in front of him, gesturing with the music. The scared young man gave it his all to warm applause and bravos from the small audience. There are many concerts I have been to since then where I wished Brendel had been there to give the same advice.

    • Gerry McDonald says:

      That’s why AB has justifiably been described as “the thinking man’s pianist”!

  • Herbie G says:

    Amid all this admittedly interesting discussion about Beethoven’s piano works, nobody has congratulated Alfred Brendel on his Honorary Doctorate! What a lovely picture of him – the radiance of his warm smile sums up his playing; a true pianistic giant whose recordings are still staple fare for me. No histrionics, no ‘interventionism’, no attempts to be a ‘celeb’; no agogic distortions – he lets the music speak for itself.

    The only problem with his VOX Beethoven recordings is that he included the variations on God Save The King and Rule, Britannia. On the basis of this brazen colonialist imperialism he should be erased from history, his recordings should be burned and the BBC should ban all performances by him.

    If they did that, Brendel could make secret recordings and sell them on the, ahem, erm, alternatively ethnically coloured market for shedloads of money.

  • Duncan says:

    Who cares about the citation? Brendel is a legend and deserves any and every award.