Monday, December 10, 2012

Charles Rosen

I have given no book to more people, literally or by sociable recommendation, than The Classical Style, written by Charles Rosen and published by Viking Press in 1971. I cannot, and would not dream of venturing to forget my astonishment, not yet a year from the college where we both had studied, that the music I had so come to love could be unveiled so endlessly by a single mind. This afternoon I discovered at the website of The New York Times that he had died in New York; and I find this evening that he has been remembered by National Public Radio, as he has been by the newspaper, as a "polymath" and musician of rare capacity.

The foregoing three sentences are alike in their misdirection of the superlative. The character in which Mr Rosen not merely excelled but convinced, lay in his articulation of the precedence of structure in the coherency and power of all art and of its indispensability to the giving of pleasure. With his distinctive book on Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, he extracted from music of accepted stature the Rosetta stone of classicism, of why it spontaneously works, and laid before the common reader, with a transparency and fire to make one gasp, principles of criticism of such diverse portability that they afford the same insight into the longevity of wine, the viability of states, the contentment of people in their dwelling, and in the shirt on their back. 

It was no more than typical of him, engaged in a month-long debate with Alfred Brendel in The New York Review some 16 years ago, on the reading of a manuscript marking in a Beethoven sonata, to invoke a musical commoner in his argument against applying "too many dynamic accents" in a 24-bar phrase of no dynamic indications at all, as tending to "forfeit the simplicity that Proust's grandmother justly claimed was the way to play a Beethoven sonata, as well as the way to receive visitors and prepare a steak with potatoes." Mr Rosen belonged to a world of taste that was modest but could be audacious, learned but could be humble, and was sublimely indivisible. A gentleman of the mind, as fine and indefatigable a companion as it may wish, and so generous as to stay, for which one gives indebted thanks.

Charles Rosen
The Classical Style
  Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
The Norton Library edition,
  with a new preface by the author,

The expanded Norton Library
  edition, 1997©

Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata, Op. 110
  1. Moderato Cantabile,
  Molto Espressivo
Charles Rosen, piano
American Academy of Arts
  and Letters, 1996
Norton, 1997©

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