One of the most prominent pianists of the 20th and 21st centuries is Alfred Brendel. In so many ways, Brendel epitomises the ideal of the modern musician. He’s very scholarly. Rather than stamping his own personality and ideas on the music, as Glenn Gould tended to do, he wants to be the servant of the music rather than its master. He has a certain humility towards the composer and his intentions. For him, those are paramount.
I also admire him because of his unusual career. He was not a prodigy, as many pianists tend to be. Also, he admits he’s not a good sight reader. He says he has a good memory, but not a phenomenal one. He grew up far from the bright city lights of Vienna. Other than some piano lessons at the Graz Conservatory when he was a teenager, along with some masterclasses he took from Edwin Fischer and Eduard Steuermann, he never had an important teacher. He never went through the conservatory system. In other words, he’s mostly self-taught. He is that rarity, a self-taught concert pianist. Unlike just about every important pianist to come along since Van Cliburn, he never won an important competition. Nobody is more surprised by his success than himself.
My piano teachers taught me that I should strive to be more than a mere piano player. In their minds, being able to toss off Liszt works was not nearly as important as bringing intelligence and artistry to whatever you play. In other words, don’t be a piano player. Be a pianist. Be a musician, not just somebody who makes music. There is a difference. Alfred Brendel is a musician and a pianist. He’s not content with mere technical display.