Michael Morley was in the role of autograph hunter when he first met world-renowned concert pianist Alfred Brendel; this month in Edinburgh, Flinders University’s emeritus professor of drama will appear with the maestro as a collaborator.
A long-running, episodic friendship led Brendel to approach Professor Morley (pictured) to edit the English version of A Pianist’s A – Z. The book is to be launched on August 19 at the Edinburgh International Festival in a public session hosted by festival director Sir Jonathan Mills.
The 128-page book contains numerous short entries that offer Brendel’s perspective on matters to do with piano music and performance. Its original German language version was published last year.
Professor Morley, who is known to audiences in Australia and overseas as regular accompanist to singer Robyn Archer, speaks and writes German fluently and is a scholar of the works of Bertolt Brecht.
His skill on the piano, in tandem with his knowledge of the two languages, made him an ideal candidate to fine tune Brendel’s own translation of the book into English.
Although Professor Morley insists his role was confined to occasional edits to make the English more idiomatic, Brendel has credited him as co-author of the English version.
An admirer of Brendel since the 1960s, Professor Morley first met the pianist in 1971, when, through a friendship with an orchestral performer in New Zealand, he found himself at a rehearsal for one of Brendel’s concerts.
At the end of the session, Professor Morley tentatively approached the maestro to sign the cover of a Brendel LP of Liszt – “Fortunately, it was one of his own recordings that he liked,” says Professor Morley.
Their acquaintance grew into a friendship that has seen the pair correspond and, whenever possible, catch up for meals and conversation.
Now aged 83 and retired from the concert platform, Brendel still travels to give masterclasses and lectures, and has written several books on music and musicianship.
“I’m in awe, not only of his piano playing ability, but of his general command of the visual arts and English, French and German literature. He’s extraordinarily widely read and interested in a huge range of things,” Professor Morley said.
Professor Morley said the book’s entries cover approaches to performance as well as lightly critical observations on other musicians, including some famous conductors (who go unnamed).
Composers such as Beethoven, Brahms and Liszt, whose works Brendel has performed and recorded frequently, are discussed along with composers such as Bach and Chopin whose music he plays only in private.
“There’s a lot of humour in the book, and it reflects Alfred’s temperament and the breadth of his musical interests,” Professor Morley said.
“And the final entry is quite bizarre and very funny; but you’ll have to buy the book to read it.”
A Pianist’s A – Z will be published by Faber and Faber in September.