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One Finger Too Many

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A master of the piano, Alfred Brendel here turns in a deft performance as poet, building fantastic little "word machines" of extraordinary tensile strength. We are drawn immediately into a fun-house world of suspicious but wondrous goings-on: The supernumerary index finger of the pianist in the title poem, we're told, sometimes pointed out "an obstinate cougher in the hall/or emerged from beneath his tailcoat/beckoning a lady in the third row." Elsewhere, Beethoven, disguised as Salieri, poisons a sleeping Mozart...
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Overview

A master of the piano, Alfred Brendel here turns in a deft performance as poet, building fantastic little "word machines" of extraordinary tensile strength. We are drawn immediately into a fun-house world of suspicious but wondrous goings-on: The supernumerary index finger of the pianist in the title poem, we're told, sometimes pointed out "an obstinate cougher in the hall/or emerged from beneath his tailcoat/beckoning a lady in the third row." Elsewhere, Beethoven, disguised as Salieri, poisons a sleeping Mozart and skulks away clutching, forever, Mozart's greatest possession - the key of C minor. And the conceptual artist Christo wraps the Three Tenors on the balcony of La Scala. These constantly surprising poems enchant even as they sting, revealing the light (and dark) side of Alfred Brendel, one of the world's greatest musicians. His followers will have to have this book, but so will anyone who enjoys readable poetry touched by a divine madness.
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Editorial Reviews

A. Alvarez
I have hugely enjoyed Alfred Brendel's unexpected One Finger Too Many. Brendel's poems are trapdoors into his dream-life, witty, Dadaesque and subversive&#151especially of his own grandeur as a musician.
Times Literary Supplement
Library Journal
Music lovers will be familiar with Brendel as a world-renowned pianist and recording artist. They may also be familiar with his essays and lectures on musical subjects, in which he has been known to ask, "Must Classical Music Be Entirely Serious?" and in which he lists "laughing" as his favorite occupation. He singles out the cartoons of Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, and Gary Larson as favorite minor muses, and so it is not surprising that this most recent foray into poetry is a winsome m lange of unfettered whimsy and gnomic wit. Perhaps the flavor of this slender volume is best captured by a poem in which a Dadaist looks in the mirror to see "some fetching contradictions/ himself and his opposite," "tomfoolery and method," "sense within nonsense," "anarchy and poise," "Beethoven mustachioed, [and]...even little Jesus...with his tongue stuck out of course." One other stylistic contradiction perhaps should be mentioned: the sheer readable fun of these verses packaging powerful, if enigmatic, truths. Recommended for all public libraries.--Thomas F. Merrill, Univ. of Delaware, Newark Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Celebrity poetry—whether by a fetching folksinger (Jewel), a sincere ex-president (Jimmy Carter), or, in this case, a world-class concert pianist—is always ruled by one fact: it wouldn't be printed were it not for its author's extra-literary fame. This Austrian-born musician, who's written two volumes of essays on music, contributes nothing of permanence to the literary canon, but that seems beside the point. His fans will no doubt enjoy these short jottings—poems by virtue of their loose syntax, short- line phrasings, and lack of punctuation. A moralist and fabulist, Brendel displays his good taste and breeding everywhere in these sometimes absurdist little narratives. The title derives from a line in "Finger," about a pianist with an extra index finger, a poem that embodies many of Brendel's recurring themes: performance anxiety, the burdens of fame, and annoying audiences. Many poems concern the stage—actors who have to simulate lovemaking every night; what happens when Godot finally arrives; and another actor preparing to play "Othello." The great composers dot these pages, often in fantastical short sketches: their ghosts visit an old woman at night; Brahms fidgets impolitely and stinks of cigars; and Beethoven conspires murderously against Mozart. Brendel's skepticism reveals itself in politically tinged poems about leaders who stop laughing; self-important opinion-makers; and empty heroism. But the poet reserves his strongest rebuke for unruly audiences—the coughers, sneezers, and clappers among us. Celebrity verse for high-brow concertgoers, who will be properly amused.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375502934
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/23/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 68
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Alfred Brendel was born in 1931 in Moravia. He is one of this century's most widely respected pianists and classical recording artists. Among Mr. Brendel's numerous awards are honorary doctorates from London, Oxford, and Yale universities. He has also published two collections of essays about music. One Finger Too Many is his first book of poetry in English.

Richard Stokes teaches languages at Westminster School, London. His most recent book is A French Song Companion, written with Graham Johnson. His translation of Wagner's Parsifal will premiere soon at the English National Opera.

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