Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Memoriam Charles Rosen

I have often mentioned Charles Rosen on this blog. He is one of three great writers on music that I often cite as being the ones most worth reading. The other two are Joseph Kerman, author of outstanding books on the Beethoven quartets and Bach fugues, and Richard Taruskin, author of outstanding books on Stravinsky and the new Oxford History of Western Music.

Charles Rosen passed away on December 9 at age eighty-five. Here is his obituary in the Guardian. I think that Rosen's The Classical Style was the first book on music that I read that really awakened me to how profound music can be. Rosen's book on the Beethoven piano sonatas is one that I constantly refer to. His thoughts on textual issues, tempi, interpretation, form and just about anything else concerning the sonatas are deep, learnĂ©d and wise. His large book, The Romantic Generation, is a spectacular tour of the whole context of the first generation of Romantic composers with insights into Schumann, Liszt and Chopin that you will find nowhere else.

Rosen's skills as a pianist were evident in his performances of classical period music. Here he is playing Mozart's "Turkish" rondo, K. 331. He doesn't rush the tempo. Note also the precise handling of dynamics and articulation. A very intelligent performance:

Here is a very brief snippet of him talking about emotion in Schoenberg:

Here he is playing the first movement of one of my favorite Beethoven sonatas, op 101 in A major:

We are losing a lot of truly great musical minds. Just in the last year Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (probably the greatest lieder singer of all time), Gustav Leonhardt (a truly great harpsichordist and organist), Jacques Barzun (very fine historian with considerable insights into music and cultural history), and now Charles Rosen.


davidrmoran said...

Rosen was a formidable mind to be sure. The Mozart clip is rhythmically not so strong, don't you think? Also interesting you left former Rosen grad school roommate Michael Steinberg out of your musings about the great recent writers on music; his Beethoven quartet discussions are superior to Kerman's, to my mind, and you would almost certainly enjoy investigating them (unless you did and found them wanting). In addition to Steinberg's books, the Beethoven sonata notes (the Goode and Frank cycles) are likewise very helpful.

davidrmoran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan Townsend said...

David, thanks for your comment. I like the Mozart rondo because it is rhythmically a bit more subtle than most performances.

I must confess that I am not familiar with the writings of Michael Steinberg! Thanks for mentioning him.