Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts

Alfred Brendel

Welcome to the enchanting world of “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” by Alfred Brendel 🎢! This book is not your typical read; it’s a journey into the heart and mind of one of the most respected classical pianists and thinkers in the music world. Alfred Brendel, with his unparalleled insight into the realm of classical music, offers readers a unique blend of reflections, analyses, and performance philosophy.

Published in 1976, this collection of essays and lectures spans a wide array of topics, from the nuances of performing Beethoven’s piano sonatas to the intricacies of musical interpretation and expression. It’s a genre-defying work that straddles the lines between autobiography, criticism, and philosophical musing, all woven together by Brendel’s wit, wisdom, and profound musical intelligence.

Alfred Brendel, who had a distinguished career as a concert pianist before turning his focus to writing and lecturing, brings a practitioner’s eye to the discussions within. His insights are not just theoretical; they are imbued with the richness of someone who has lived and breathed the music he discusses.

“Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” is a must-read for anyone deeply interested in classical music, whether you’re a seasoned musician, a student of music, or simply an avid listener seeking to deepen your appreciation. Let’s dive into the intellectual and musical feast that Brendel has laid out for us! πŸ“šπŸŽΉ

Plot Summary

Given the unique nature of “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts,” a traditional plot summary doesn’t quite apply as it would for a novel or a narrative non-fiction work. This collection does not follow a storyline with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Instead, it’s a compilation of essays and lecturesβ€”each a piece of intellectual exploration into various aspects of music performance, interpretation, and appreciation.

β€” Exposition: The book opens with Brendel setting the stage for a deep dive into his musical philosophy, sharing insights from his extensive career as a concert pianist and a music thinker. He introduces readers to his approach to performing and understanding classical music, particularly focusing on the works of Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt.

β€” Rising Action: As the collection progresses, Brendel delves into more specific topics, such as the challenges of interpreting Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, the nuances of Schubert’s compositions, and the theatricality of Liszt’s music. These essays serve as an escalating exploration of the complexities and joys of engaging with classical music at a high level.

β€” Climax: While there isn’t a climax in the traditional sense, the book reaches a peak in its exploration of music interpretation with deeply insightful analyses that challenge the reader to think critically about music and its performance. Brendel’s discussions on the balance between emotional expression and technical precision in music performance could be considered a focal point of his argument.

β€” Falling Action: Following the in-depth analyses, Brendel reflects on broader questions of musical interpretation, performance practice, and the role of a musician in society. This section serves to consolidate his earlier points, encouraging readers to apply these insights in their approach to music, whether as performers, listeners, or critics.

β€” Resolution: The collection concludes with Brendel advocating for a thoughtful, informed, and emotionally engaged approach to classical music. He emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and openness to new interpretations, leaving the reader with a sense of empowerment and a deepened curiosity about classical music.

“Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” is not a narrative journey but a thematic exploration, offering a rich tapestry of reflections that invite readers into the mind of one of classical music’s most esteemed figures.

Character Analysis

Given the nature of “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” by Alfred Brendel, the book does not feature characters in the traditional sense of fiction or narrative non-fiction. Instead, the “characters” in this collection of essays and lectures are the composers and their compositions that Brendel explores and analyzes. However, we can consider Alfred Brendel himself as the main “character” through the lens of his personal insights, experiences, and intellectual engagement with music.

β€” Alfred Brendel:

  • Personality: Brendel emerges as a deeply thoughtful, intellectually curious, and profoundly knowledgeable figure. His personality is marked by a unique blend of analytical rigor and emotional sensitivity, which he applies to his interpretations of classical music.
  • Motivations: His primary motivation is a lifelong quest for understanding and conveying the essence of the music he performs and studies. Brendel is driven by a desire to bridge the gap between technical mastery and emotional expression in music, seeking to share these insights with both musicians and music lovers.
  • Character Development: Throughout the book, Brendel’s development is evident in the deepening of his musical insights and the broadening of his reflective scope. From the technical challenges of performing specific compositions to philosophical musings on the nature of musical interpretation, Brendel’s character is revealed through his evolving understanding of music and its performance.

Character Analysis Summary:

CharacterPersonality TraitsMotivationsDevelopment
Alfred BrendelAnalytical, emotionally sensitive, knowledgeableUnderstanding and conveying the essence of music, bridging technical mastery and emotional expressionDeepening of musical insights, broadening of reflective scope

In “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts,” Alfred Brendel himself is the central figure through which we explore the landscape of classical music interpretation. The book serves as a medium for Brendel’s character to engage with the reader, offering a window into his intellectual journey and the profound musical insights he has garnered over a lifetime of engagement with classical music.

Themes and Symbols

“Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” by Alfred Brendel, while not a narrative work, is rich in themes and symbols that emerge from his contemplative exploration of music and its performance. These themes and symbols contribute significantly to the depth and complexity of the book, offering readers a nuanced understanding of classical music’s intellectual and emotional landscape.

β€” The Search for Authenticity in Music Performance: Brendel frequently discusses the importance of authenticity in interpreting and performing classical music. This theme is not about adhering strictly to historical practices but rather about finding a balance between the composer’s intentions and the performer’s emotional and intellectual input. Brendel argues that authenticity comes from a deep understanding of the music’s context, its technical demands, and its emotional language.

β€” The Relationship Between Technique and Expression: A central theme in Brendel’s essays is the interplay between technical mastery and emotional expression in music performance. He symbolizes this relationship through the metaphor of a bridge that connects two essential aspects of music-making. For Brendel, technical prowess is not an end in itself but a means to achieve greater expressive depth and communicate more effectively with the audience.

β€” The Interpreter as Co-Creator: Brendel introduces the concept of the performer as a co-creator with the composer. This theme challenges traditional views of the performer’s role as merely reproductive. Instead, Brendel celebrates the performer’s creative input, highlighting the interpretative choices and insights that bring the music to life in new and meaningful ways.

β€” The Dynamics of Silence and Sound: Silence in music is another symbol Brendel explores, emphasizing its role in shaping musical narratives and creating emotional impact. He discusses how the strategic use of silence, pauses, and rests adds to the music’s expressive power, serving as a canvas against which the notes can be more vividly appreciated.

β€” The Continuity of Musical Tradition: Brendel reflects on the theme of musical tradition, viewing it as a living, breathing entity that evolves over time. He sees each performance as part of a continuum, connecting past, present, and future. This theme underlines the importance of historical awareness, while also advocating for the necessity of innovation and personal interpretation in keeping the musical tradition vibrant and relevant.

These themes and symbols, woven throughout Alfred Brendel’s essays, underscore the complexity and richness of classical music. They invite readers to engage with music on a deeper level, encouraging a more reflective and nuanced appreciation of the art form.

Style and Tone

“Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” by Alfred Brendel showcases a distinctive writing style and tone that contribute significantly to the book’s mood and atmosphere. Brendel’s approach to writing mirrors his approach to music: thoughtful, precise, and deeply expressive. Here’s a closer look at the key elements of his style and tone:

β€” Analytical Precision: Brendel employs an analytical style that reflects his deep understanding of music theory and performance practice. He meticulously dissects compositions and performances, offering readers insights into the complex mechanics of music. This precision helps demystify intricate musical concepts, making them accessible to a broader audience.

β€” Philosophical Depth: Throughout the essays, Brendel adopts a philosophical tone, pondering the larger questions surrounding music, art, and human expression. This depth encourages readers to consider not just the how of music, but the why, inviting a more profound engagement with the material.

β€” Personal Anecdotes: Brendel often incorporates personal anecdotes and experiences from his illustrious career as a concert pianist. These stories add a warm, engaging tone to the book, making the world of classical music performance more relatable and human.

β€” Humor and Wit: Despite the depth of the subject matter, Brendel’s writing is sprinkled with moments of humor and wit. This lighter tone helps balance the analytical and philosophical aspects of his writing, making the essays enjoyable as well as informative.

β€” Clarity and Accessibility: Although Brendel dives into complex and sophisticated musical analyses, he maintains a clarity of expression that ensures the essays are accessible. He has a gift for explaining difficult concepts in a way that is understandable without sacrificing depth or nuance.

β€” Reflective and Contemplative: The overall tone of the book is reflective and contemplative, mirroring the introspective process of musical interpretation. Brendel invites readers into his thought process, sharing the doubts, decisions, and discoveries that shape his approach to music.

In summary, Alfred Brendel’s “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” is characterized by its analytical precision, philosophical depth, personal anecdotes, humor, clarity, and reflective tone. These elements come together to create a mood that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant, offering readers a comprehensive and engaging exploration of classical music and performance.

Literary Devices Used in Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts

In “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts,” Alfred Brendel skillfully employs various literary devices to enrich his exploration of music and its performance. Here are the top 10 devices used, each highlighting a different aspect of his analytical and expressive prowess.

  1. Metaphor β€” Brendel frequently uses metaphors to draw comparisons between musical concepts and more tangible, relatable ideas. For instance, he might compare the structure of a musical composition to a well-architected building, thereby helping readers visualize and understand complex musical forms.
  2. Allusion β€” He alludes to historical figures, musical works, and cultural events to provide context and depth to his arguments. These references enhance the reader’s understanding of the music’s place within a broader cultural and historical landscape.
  3. Anecdote β€” Brendel includes personal anecdotes from his experiences as a performer and listener. These stories serve to illustrate his points more vividly and to establish a connection with the reader through shared experiences.
  4. Hyperbole β€” At times, Brendel employs hyperbole to emphasize the emotional or technical extremes found in music. This device helps to convey the intensity of the performer’s experience and the demands placed on them by the repertoire.
  5. Irony β€” Brendel’s use of irony often highlights the contradictions or unexpected outcomes in the world of music performance and interpretation. This device adds a layer of sophistication to his critiques and observations.
  6. Parallelism β€” Through parallel structure, Brendel draws connections between seemingly disparate musical ideas, creating a sense of cohesion and unity in his analyses. This technique underscores the interconnectedness of musical concepts across different compositions and styles.
  7. Personification β€” By attributing human qualities to musical elements or compositions, Brendel animates the music, making it more relatable and expressive. This device brings compositions to life, inviting readers to engage with them on a more personal level.
  8. Rhetorical Questions β€” Brendel uses rhetorical questions to provoke thought and to engage the reader actively in the exploration of musical questions. This device invites readers to ponder the complexities of music and its performance alongside the author.
  9. Symbolism β€” Musical elements are often imbued with symbolic meaning, and Brendel explores these symbols to uncover deeper layers of interpretation. For example, a recurring motif may symbolize a particular emotion or idea, enriching the narrative of the composition.
  10. Analogy β€” Brendel draws analogies between music and other forms of art or aspects of human experience, such as painting or literature. These comparisons help to illuminate the multifaceted nature of music and its capacity to reflect and influence the human condition.

These literary devices contribute significantly to the depth, clarity, and engaging quality of Alfred Brendel’s writing in “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts,” offering readers insightful and thought-provoking perspectives on classical music and its performance.

Literary Devices Examples

In “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts,” Alfred Brendel’s use of literary devices not only enriches his narrative but also deepens the reader’s understanding of music. Here, we’ll provide examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices Brendel employs.


Comparing a musical composition’s structure to a well-architected buildingThis metaphor helps readers visualize the complexity and organization inherent in musical compositions, emphasizing the importance of structural integrity and aesthetic design in both fields.


Referencing Beethoven’s “Heiligenstadt Testament” in a discussion on his late sonatasThis allusion enriches the reader’s understanding of the emotional depth and historical context behind Beethoven’s compositions, linking personal anguish with musical expression.


Recounting a performance where Brendel felt particularly connected to Schubert’s musicThis personal story illustrates the emotional power of music and the deep, personal connection performers can have with the compositions they play, making the abstract concept of musical interpretation more tangible.


Describing the technical demands of a Liszt composition as “superhuman”Brendel uses hyperbole to emphasize the extraordinary technical skill required to perform Liszt’s music, highlighting the physical and emotional intensity that comes with such repertoire.


Discussing the unexpected popularity of complex modern compositions among traditional audiencesThis irony points out the surprising ways in which music can transcend expectations and engage listeners, challenging preconceived notions about musical taste and accessibility.


Drawing parallels between the thematic development in Beethoven’s symphonies and his piano sonatasThrough parallelism, Brendel highlights the compositional techniques that Beethoven employed across different musical forms, demonstrating the composer’s consistent approach to thematic exploration and development.


Describing a melody as “weeping” in a Chopin nocturnePersonification brings the music to life, suggesting that the notes themselves can convey deep emotional states, enhancing the listener’s emotional engagement with the piece.

Rhetorical Questions

Asking, “What is the essence of Schubert’s melancholy?”Brendel uses a rhetorical question to invite reflection on the emotional nuances of Schubert’s music, encouraging readers to delve deeper into its interpretative possibilities.


A recurring motif in a Beethoven sonata symbolizing fateBy exploring symbolism, Brendel uncovers layers of meaning within the music, allowing readers to appreciate the compositional depth and the narrative elements embedded in musical motifs.


Comparing the process of musical interpretation to translating a poem from one language to anotherThis analogy clarifies the complexities involved in musical interpretation, highlighting the importance of fidelity to the original while also adapting to the nuances of a different “language” or expressive medium.

Through these examples, Alfred Brendel demonstrates his masterful use of literary devices to communicate complex musical ideas in an engaging and accessible manner, enriching the reader’s experience of “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts.”

Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts – FAQs

Q: What is “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” about?
A: “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” is a collection of essays and lectures by Alfred Brendel, one of the most renowned classical pianists of his time. The book delves into various aspects of music interpretation, performance, and appreciation, offering insights into the works of composers like Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. It reflects Brendel’s deep understanding of music, combining analytical precision with emotional depth.

Q: Who should read “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts”?
A: This book is ideal for anyone interested in classical music, whether they are musicians, music students, or simply enthusiasts who wish to deepen their understanding of music interpretation and performance. Brendel’s insights offer valuable perspectives not just on playing music, but also on listening to and appreciating it more fully.

Q: How does Alfred Brendel approach the topic of music interpretation in the book?
A: Brendel approaches music interpretation as a balance between fidelity to the composer’s intentions and the performer’s personal expression. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the historical and theoretical context of the music, while also advocating for an emotional connection that brings the music to life for both the performer and the audience.

Q: Does the book include specific analyses of musical works?
A: Yes, “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” includes detailed analyses of specific musical works, particularly those by Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. Brendel examines these compositions from both a technical and an emotional standpoint, providing readers with a deeper appreciation of the complexities involved in their interpretation.

Q: What makes Alfred Brendel qualified to write on this subject?
A: Alfred Brendel is considered one of the greatest classical pianists of the 20th century, with a career spanning over six decades. His extensive experience as a performer, coupled with his thoughtful and analytical approach to music, makes him uniquely qualified to offer insights into the art of music interpretation and performance.

Q: Can beginners in classical music understand and appreciate the book?
A: While “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” delves into complex aspects of music theory and interpretation, Brendel’s clear and engaging writing style makes it accessible to readers with varying levels of musical knowledge. Beginners may find it challenging but ultimately rewarding, as it offers a window into the depth and richness of classical music.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What is the primary focus of “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts”?The biography of Alfred BrendelThe interpretation and performance of classical musicThe history of piano manufacturingModern music composition techniquesB
Who are the main composers discussed in the book?Mozart, Haydn, and BrahmsBeethoven, Schubert, and LisztBach, Handel, and VivaldiDebussy, Ravel, and SatieB
What literary device is frequently used by Brendel to explain musical concepts?SimileMetaphorOnomatopoeiaAlliterationB
According to Brendel, what balances must a performer maintain in interpreting music?Speed and volumeTechnique and expressionPractice and performanceRepertoire and improvisationB
What role does Alfred Brendel assign to the performer in relation to the composer?AdversaryCo-creatorCriticHistorianB
How does Brendel view the relationship between silence and sound in music?As contrasting elements that should be kept separateAs essential to the rhythm but not to melodyAs dynamic elements that define the music’s narrativeAs technical aspects that are secondary to harmonyC
What does Brendel suggest is crucial for understanding a piece’s essence?Memorizing the scoreTechnical proficiencyHistorical and theoretical contextRegular public performanceC
Which theme is NOT explored in the book?The evolution of musical notationThe search for authenticity in music performanceThe dynamics of silence and soundThe continuity of musical traditionA
What is Brendel’s approach to musical humor and wit in his writing?He strictly avoids it, favoring a serious toneHe occasionally uses it to lighten the discussionHe believes it undermines the gravity of classical musicHe uses it extensively in analyzing modern compositionsB
For whom does Brendel primarily write this book?Casual listeners of classical musicAdvanced musicians and music scholarsChildren beginning their music educationComposers seeking inspirationB

This quiz is designed to test comprehension and engage readers with the key concepts and details presented in “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” by Alfred Brendel. It covers the book’s main focus, the composers discussed, literary devices used by Brendel, and his perspectives on music performance and interpretation.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts” and explain their significance.

“In the realm of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, each note seems to inhabit a universe of its own, yet simultaneously, they form a constellation of sound that speaks to the very essence of human emotion. The silences between these notes, as profound as the sounds themselves, act as the canvas upon which this musical narrative unfolds. It’s as if Beethoven, through these pauses, invites us into a dialogue with the infinite, challenging us to find our own meanings within the spaces of his music.”


  1. Metaphor: The paragraph uses the metaphor of a “constellation of sound” to describe the interconnectedness and individual significance of each note in Beethoven’s late piano sonatas. This metaphor highlights the complexity and beauty of the music, suggesting that each note contributes to a larger, harmonious whole, much like stars in a constellation.
  2. Personification: By suggesting that notes “inhabit a universe of their own” and that silences “act as the canvas,” the paragraph personifies musical elements, giving them qualities and agency typically associated with living beings or entities. This personification makes the music feel alive and dynamic, emphasizing its emotional depth and capacity to communicate.
  3. Symbolism: The “silences between these notes” are symbolic of the infinite possibilities for interpretation and emotional response that Beethoven’s music offers. These pauses are not just absences of sound but are charged with potential, representing the spaces in which listeners can engage with and reflect on the music.
  4. Allusion: The invitation “into a dialogue with the infinite” alludes to the philosophical and existential dimensions of Beethoven’s music. This allusion suggests that engaging with these compositions is not just a musical experience but also a deeply reflective and personal journey, inviting listeners to ponder their own place in the universe.

This exercise encourages students to explore how Alfred Brendel uses literary devices to convey the depth and nuance of musical interpretation in “Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts.” Through metaphor, personification, symbolism, and allusion, Brendel enriches his analysis, making complex musical concepts accessible and engaging.