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One Finger Too Many: Brendel, Alfred; Stokes, Richard

One Finger Too Many

Brendel, Alfred; Stokes, Richard

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ISBN 10: 0375502939 / ISBN 13: 9780375502934
Published by Westminster, Maryland, U.S.A.: Random House Inc, 1999
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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About this Item

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Bibliographic Details

Title: One Finger Too Many

Publisher: Westminster, Maryland, U.S.A.: Random House Inc

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Signed: Inscribed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


This deceptively slight volume is proof that not only good but excellent things often come in small packages. 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.


A top-drawer interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, the pianist Alfred Brendel is famous for his restraint--this brilliant technician never lapses into Romantic fireworks. His first book of poetry evinces a similar modesty. Yet these brief verses, which have been effectively translated from the German by the author and Richard Stokes, also showcase a sneaky and surreal sense of humor. Like the artist he describes in one poem, Brendel is always on the lookout for the comic paradox: "When the dadaist looked into the mirror / he saw some fetching contradictions / himself and his opposite / tomfoolery and method."

Not surprisingly, many of the pieces evoke the world of classical music. The title poem asks us to imagine a pianist with a kind of utility finger, capable of clarifying a knotty passage or "beckoning a lady in the third row." Elsewhere Brendel compares the public ardor of concertizing to the more private one of sex, saddling his pianist with a truly formidable case of performance anxiety: "both reviled and spurred on by the public / painstakingly supervised by the author / who / on top of it all / has entrusted the lovers with the burden of dialogue." Still, the author's poetic interests extend considerably beyond the keyboard. One Finger Too Many is infused with a healthy dose of skepticism, and on several occasions Brendel applies the nightstick to organized religion:

And once again
the Lord of the Universe
recorded a day of good works
three religious wars launched
several tornadoes let loose
a new brand of pestilence devised
utopias planted into souls
countless children successfully harmed
a good reason
to grant oneself a moment's rest
True, a literary spitball like the above isn't about to shake the convictions of a true believer. But that's not the point. These poems are written to amuse, edify, and tickle the reader's sensibility--banging the pulpit is something that Brendel the poet (and Brendel the pianist) religiously avoids. --James Marcus

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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