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#2170114 - 10/22/13 02:57 PM Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19941
Loc: New York City
I started reading the tiny and thin new book by Brendel called A Pianist's A-Z. Much interesting stuff so far and I thought I'd ask PW people what they thought about this:

"There are those that think delving into the biography of an artist ensures a deeper perception of their art. I am not one of them. The notion that a work of art has to mirror the person of the artist...such a belief seems to me to belong, particularly in the area of music, to the realm of wishful thinking...Beethoven' frequently chaotic handwriting in his letters and musical autographs reminds us of his domestic array as we know it from pictures and descriptions. In complete contrast the enduring order of his
compositions. ,There are exceptional cases where events from the composer's life can be traced in the music(Brendel then mentions Beethoven composing in his Op.110 Sonata the experience of returning to life after a severe case jaundice and Brahms composing his PC #1 under the influence of Schumann jumping onto the Rhine).

Generally, however the desire to link tendencies and incidences in the artist's life to his compositions will lead us astray...Music is full of counter examples."

What do you think about this?

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#2170156 - 10/22/13 04:18 PM Re: Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts [Re: pianoloverus]
wouter79 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3817
I see at least two statements here by Brendel

* delving into the biography of an artist ensures a deeper perception of their art... I am not one of them.

* to link tendencies and incidences in the artist's life to his compositions will lead us astray

I expect that there IS a link between the life of an artist and his art. It may not just be so simple as Brendel seems to suggest.

Also Brendel gives only 1 example to support his claim.

Regarding Beethoven, he probably thrived on what appears to be chaos, but in fact he probably knew exactly where everything was. The chaos can also help boosting creativity.

#2170552 - 10/23/13 10:38 AM Re: Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts [Re: pianoloverus]
the nosy ape Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/10/08
Posts: 729
Loc: Westford, MA
I would agree that delving into an artist's biography does not ensure a deeper perception of their art, but neither is it guaranteed to be completely in vain. I think it would depend on the biography and on the person reading the biography. There is probably not much to be gleaned from examining Beethoven's housekeeping habits, but there might be more if one were to look at what company he was keeping, what he was writing and why, his financial state, his health, etc.

#2170608 - 10/23/13 12:26 PM Re: Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts [Re: pianoloverus]
Derek Hartwell Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/03/09
Posts: 219
Loc: United Kingdom
Whilst reading about the lives of composers can be interesting and stimulating,what is most important to me is the music. If it is appealing, well constructed with good tunes and harmony, and if it has the staying power to ensure its continued permanent appeal(to me), then the life of its composer, though perhaps interesting, is not a major concern of mine.
Music Teacher (Piano/Theory/Musicianship)

#2170693 - 10/23/13 03:27 PM Re: Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts [Re: pianoloverus]
RealPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 2368
Loc: NYC
Well, just going by the LIVING composers I've known and spent time with, there's little correlation between their personal lives or character and their music. In a couple of cases you might find that an extroverted personality creates more extroverted music, for example, but even that I wouldn't take as a generality.


#2170769 - 10/23/13 05:46 PM Re: Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts [Re: pianoloverus]
Scordatura Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/23/12
Posts: 138
Loc: Suffolk, UK
In principle, Brendel's (and Derek's) feelings squarely accord with my own. But TNA's reply has prompted me to acknowledge at least one exception - Brahms 2nd Sextet, Op.36. From first hearing it, I fell headlong in love with the work's uniquely alluring fusion of gracefulness, passion, and immensely diverse mood-painting. In the years before I learned of the biographical background to its composition, it struck me as the sunniest of all Brahms' works I knew - Brahms thoroughly luxuriating in his total command of his maturing compositional virtuosity. Subseqently reading that it was directly inspired by the loss to another suitor of the girl he expected to marry, and composed as a personal valedictory, my experiencing of its musical content became utterly transformed. For me now, every one of its motifs captures a particular wistful poignancy all of its own, the work as a whole conveying an emotional complexity and subtleness that's impossible to embrace fully, and moving beyond words.

I'd also fall into the Brendel camp as regard painters and their paintings. But once again there's an exception for me - Edvard Munch. There's a personal story - some emotional crisis -inspiring every one of his pictures, and I'd say it's impossible to appreciate the intent and full psychological effect of any of them without knowing its particular background. Essentially, his work, like the Sextet, is autobiographical, so knowing its background is bound to have an impact on how one interprets it.

#2170789 - 10/23/13 06:22 PM Re: Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts [Re: pianoloverus]
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19941
Loc: New York City
Brendel definitely isn't saying that knowing about a composer's life is never useful. He's saying that most of the time it's not useful and that it is, in his view, generally overrated in importance.

#2170802 - 10/23/13 06:42 PM Re: Art and Artists-Alfred Brendel's thoughts [Re: pianoloverus]
Old Man Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/04/12
Posts: 782
Loc: Michigan, USA
My first reaction to the OP's question was yes, I agree with Brendel. I don't really care to draw parallels between a composer's life and his music, nor would I find it particularly enriching. The music stands on its own.

But then I thought of one glaring exception: Mendelssohn's Quartet No. 6 in F Minor (Op. 80). Mendelssohn wrote this a few months after his sister Fanny had died, as a requiem to her, and the work is a torrent of emotion. This is not the happy Felix many have come to know and love. This is a heartbroken, despairing, angry, almost violent Felix. He allows himself a lengthy respite from his torment in the Adagio, where he cries his heart out in one of his most tender and heart-rending pieces. But the anger returns in the Finale, and when played properly (IMHO), the horsehair on those bows should be frayed and sparse by the time the last note is played.

Fanny died in May of 1847, the quartet was completed in September, and Felix died in November. This was his last major work. I think this is one situation where knowing these things really does enrich the listening experience and adds great poignancy to the work.


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