Alfred Brendel is a pianist, renowned for his interpretations of Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, Liszt, made his debut as a poet at the age of sixty-seven with the collection Fingerzeig (1996). ‘The same brilliant fingers making a new sound’, wrote Harold Pinter after reading it. Brendel quickly followed it up with two more collections: Störendes Lachen während des Jaworts (1998) and Kleine Teufel (1999).
Alfred Brendel grew up in Yugoslavia and Austria, and has been living in London since 1972. Brendel writes his poetry in German, the language he says he still dreams in.
‘I dreamt up these things in German, because I dream in German, and many poems began their life in that state between sleeping and waking which combines sense and non-sense, order and disorder.’ Brendel’s poems are full of wit and humour, frequently evoking the absurd. He shows us how people indulge in illusions, sometimes hilarious, often frightening. He also has a knack of combining incongruous elements; he brings famous operas to a surprising new close, makes the Buddha appear side by side with Santa Claus, or a pig tote a mobile phone. His brilliant, surprising texts are often profound as well as funny, sensitive as well as subversive. He writes about serious matters without taking himself seriously. Brendel names as his models the Dada poets, the grotesque poetry of Christian Morgenstern, and Shakespeare. Another favourite is Des Knaben Wunderhorn, an anthology of German folk poetry compiled by two writers of the early German romantic movement, Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. About the relationship between writing and music, Brendel has this to say: ‘Most poems start in the way pieces of music start when you compose: one or two lines appear, or in music a motif, or a succession of motifs, which then are explored, varied, developed. I have opted for constant rhythmic variety. As a musician, I have always mistrusted barlines.’
Apart from poetry, Brendel has published two collections of essays on music: Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts (1982) and Music Sounded Out (1990). Both collections have appeared in many languages. An edition of his collected essays is in preparation. A selection from Brendel’s poems has appeared in the Faber Poetry Series. The English translations are by Brendel himself in collaboration with Richard Stokes
[Alfred Brendel took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2000. This text was written on that occasion.]
Störendes Lachen während des Jaworts (1997)
One Finger Too Many (1998)
Kleine Teufel (1999)