Alfred Brendel was a lonely looking man sat behind a wooden desk, downlight by bright white light at the King’s Theatre.
Throughout his 75-minute lecture at the Edinburgh Festival, he maintained the sturdy appearance that belies his 86 years. The familiar look of curiosity remains about his face – an invitation that draws you in to look at the world from his perspective.
He is a fascinating character. A man who, intentionally or not, keeps you at a distance.
From time to time during his lecture – elbows squarely on the table, hands propping his head up – he appeared perplexed, as though this was all too much, something he was doing reluctantly for us.
When we listened to musical excerpts from his recording career, the table became an imaginary piano keyboard. Subtle movements in his hands seemed Irresistible to him. Nothing ostentatious or self-indulgent. Touching.
But there was an edge to his lecture. The mischievousness and modesty – trademark Brendel – was tinged with the hint of sadness.
His soft Austrian accent created a hypnotic effect. Witty anecdotes spanning a 60 year career – delivered methodically, but softly, made it seem as though he was reading a first draft.
This and the dramatic stage setting, gave proceedings a sense of finality.
During the musical excerpts he would look out to the audience, with a squint that at times felt as though it was meant entirely for you. Mildly terrifying.
The audience cooed knowingly at the witticisms and the absurdities. Applause rang out after every recorded excerpt too. There was deference, love, and warm appreciation from the audience.
For all the detail Brendel gave us of a hard-earned, illustrious career, we never got to know him. A tough exterior of self-deprecation made that an impossibility.
In that way he remained true to his opening gambit that, “I do not believe that the merits of an artist can be explained or illuminated by my private life.”