Alfred Brendel – Master of Cloning

August 30, 2011

Master and disciple meet together. Kit Armstrong is a Taiwanese-British young pianist. A couple of years ago he was invited to visit his mentor Alfred Brendel at his London domicile, to be introduced into the tradition of piano playing and interpretation of the masterworks of the Viennese Classicism.
The team work between Brendel and his pupil shows a totally common and non-exciting piano lesson, which is characterizing the daily routine of a pretty boring piano masterclass at the Music University in Vienna.
Both are working on a repertoire which is devotedly related to the Vienna piano tradition, that we finally should expect, of course, from a master of interpretation of the Viennese Classicism as Brendel is. Talks and questioning about Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, a little Liszt, some known works by Bach belong in conclusion to this ring of selected composers.

Brendel is talking about his young pupil as an “extraordinary talent”. He will be his mentor as long as the young man will be able to express his artistic personality and his passion in piano playing.
A quite interesting TV-documentation (arte.tv, August 2011), yet not extended enough to discover talent and capabilities of this young pianist, which I could nevertheless recognize. Kit Armstrong’s approach to music is unprejudiced, he is open-minded for new things, his analytic thinking and artistic creativity are can be found in his already clearly expressed compositions. Maybe a new “Glenn Gould”-similar personality is arising? Yes, but his mentor should not be Alfred Brendel.

Brendel’s teaching style reminds me of a typical Viennese piano lesson, hedging around interpretation of Schubert, encouraging to use more pedal for the upper voice without giving exact advice on pedalizing technique, glorification of the beautiful, rounded piano sound, as this topic would be the ultimate truth about piano playing. Why not explaining in details how a really beautiful and cultivated piano sound can be produced?

Dear Mr. Brendel, sound esthetic originates from a profound knowledge of polyphonic playing ( !!! ).
You are mentioning polyphony when teaching your pupil, but any of Your performed works in a polyphonic way is totally outside of my knowledge.
Why?

There is one question without answer:
What is “Viennese piano tradition”? What is “Viennese piano school”?

After 6 years I spent at the Wiener Musikhochschule for further musical education, at that time, I deeply regret about Viennese piano teachers as Paul Badura-Skoda, Hans Petermandl, and, last but not least, Alfred Brendel. They used a teaching method consisting in “cloning” their students.
Not even a single one has any idea about polyphony or polyphonic piano playing, let alone knowledge about the right piano technique. Last was always considered as a tabu, like topics about sex or money… No dedication into depth, no exploring the truth in music, only a superficial imposing of a pseudo Viennese style has been done. In other words: didactic razzle-dazzle.
“Moaning” on the piano, this is the impression I immediately get when Viennese pianists play Schubert.
Or the typical textual fidelity on Beethoven-Sonatas: “Everything is written in the score, nothing more is required…”
Perhaps we will find out what real Viennese Piano tradition has once represented. But we should get back to Leschetitzky, Paderewski, Schnabel, Moiseiwitsch, Friedman… And this is another story.