The pianist Alfred Brendel , who is also a poet and an essayist and reputed to have a wonderful sense of humour, has for a long time been one of my heroes. I have heard him play in Concert several times, and have one of his recordings of Mozart concertos together with an album of the Schubert sonatas. He was the first person to record all of Beethoven’s piano works and is currently making a world tour. It will be his last. He is 77, as I am, and he will give his final performance in Vienna next December. On Saturday he was responding to the Questions and Answers column in The Guardian magazine.
Asked what his greatest fear was he said that it was the collapse of the planet. His guiltiest pleasure he admitted was keeping smokers out of his house, and three things that he owed his parents were their loving care, a set of excellent teeth and a need to branch out. To the question ‘how do you relax?’ he answered ‘Looking. Reading. (Not listening: it’s too intense)’. ‘Tell us a secret’ said his questioner, and Brendel’s answer was ‘The piano sings’, which is exactly how it feels when one listens to him performing .
Asked what he found deplorable in others, he said ‘Fanaticism, unreliability, pretence, and defined ‘the antics of an ageing brain’ as the trait he deplores in himself.
The phrase has stayed with me. It’s just how it can feel as you get older, at least for me. Antics. The frustration of wayward thoughts, the difficulty of finding a word that’s got hidden in the fog of memory, forgetfulness (I left a building today and had to go back twice to collect things I had left behind and each time nearly fell over the same unexpected step as I left); misspelling every other word I type on this computer: they are all very well described by this ironic word, ‘antics’. I shall use it – if only to myself – in future.
It transforms the inconvenience of ageing into a new sort of game. I shall try to be less angry with my ageing brain and deplore it as Brendel does, but laugh at it as well.
Thank you Alfred Brendel for being one of the most perfect and humane of musicians; and for this new insight, that may turn the occasional agonies of age into a series of amusing antics.