Alfred Brendel studied piano, composition and conducting in Zagreb and Graz, and completed his piano studies with Edwin Fischer, Paul Baumgartner, and Edward Steuermann. His international career began after winning a prize at the 1949 Busoni Competition and he now performs regularly at all the world's major musical centres and festivals. He was the first pianist to record Beethoven's complete piano works, and figured importantly in establishing Schubert's piano sonatas, and Schoenberg's Piano Concerto in the concert repertoire. Brendel's affinity with deeply emotional music does not preclude a sense of humour. In a questionnaire he mentions "laughing" as his favourite occupation. Fittingly, his 1984 Darwin Lecture at Cambridge University dealt with the subject "Does classical music have to be entirely serious?".
Between 1992 and 1996 Alfred Brendel performed what will be his last complete Beethoven Sonatas series at venues across Europe and the USA. In recognition of his London cycle he was awarded the 1995 Evening Standard Classical Music Award for the Outstanding Performance of the year, and the complete set of Philips recordings was awarded the Preis de Deutschen Schallplattenkritick 1997.
In 1998 Alfred Brendel celebrated the 50th anniversary of his professional debut with special events including performances of Winterreise with Matthias Goerne, a Beethoven concerto cycle in Vienna with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle, further Beethoven Concerto cycles in Munich with Sir Colin Davis, and at the Cheltenham Festival with the Sinfonia Varsovia, as well as many recitals throughout Europe and the United States. Engagements in 1999 included a European tour with the Alban Berg Quartet,a special seven event residency at New York's Carnegie Hall, more Lieder recitals with Matthias Goerne, and a recital tour of Japan.
In celebration of his 70th Birthday in 2001 he performed special concert series in London, Paris, Vienna, Tokyo, Köln, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Frankfurt, Beethoven Concerti Cycles both in Boston with Ozawa, and at the Salzburg Festival with Sir Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic. A specially commissioned BBC Television documentary, "Alfred Brendel: Man & Mask was broadcast across Europe. During 2003 and 2004 Alfred Brendel performed and recorded all the Beethoven Cello Sonatas with his son Adrian Brendel, 2 CDs with Matthias Goerne, and a further Mozart Concerto disc with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Sir Charles Mackerras.
In 1996 Philips released a 25 CD box set entitled "The Art of Alfred Brendel" featuring a selection of recordings from throughout his career. Recent releases since then have included Schubert's Winterreise with Matthias Goerne, the Beethoven Piano Concertos with Sir Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic, 3 Mozart Concerto discs with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the first 2 discs in a series of Mozart Sonata recordings, and a special live recording of Schubert Sonatas, released to mark his 70th Birthday. He also features strongly in Philips "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" series, with 3 volumes of recordings, including many live performances issued for the first time.
Besides music, literature has remained Alfred Brendel's foremost interest and second occupation. He has published two books, Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts and Music Sounded Out , the latter of which was awarded the 1990 Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for writing. A new collection of his essays, Alfred Brendel on Music, whichincludes some previously unpublished articles, was published in January 2001 to mark his 70th Birthday. He has published three collections of absurd and humorous German poems entitled Fingerzeig, StörendesLachen während des Jaworts and KleineTeufel, and two English collections entitled One Finger Too Many and Cursing Bagels. A book of conversations with Martin Meyer entitled "Aus gerechnet ich" was published in 2001, and published in English in 2002 with the title "A Veil of Order" .
He has received honorary degrees from many universities including Oxford, Exeter, and Yale and was awarded an honorary KBE in 1989. In 1992 he received the Hans von Bülow Medal from the Berlin Philharmonic and he was granted Honorary Membership of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in December 1998. In 2001 he was awarded the "Lifetime Achievement" awards at both the MIDEM Cannes Classical Awards, and the Edison Awards in Holland, and he was awarded the prestigious "Beethoven Ring" from the Universität für Muisk und darstellende Kunst Wien. The following year he was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, presented at a gala concert in Copenhagen, the Robert Schumann Prize der Stadt Zwichau, the 2002 South Bank Show Classical Music Award, and recently the 2004 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.