From Bach to Berg: Piano virtuoso Charles Rosen examines how composers represent emotion

Charles Rosen, performer and writer

Charles Rosen, performer and writer

In his acclaimed book Music and Sentiment (out in paperback this month), the acclaimed pianist and writer Charles Rosen explores music’s profound ability to convey emotion through sound. Today we take a look at this moving book, perfect for musicians and non-musicians alike.

For classical musicians, and especially pianists, Charles Rosen is a living legend. He is one of the all-time great piano virtuosos, but also a brilliant writer of music books.

In the great classical tradition, Rosen’s musical lineage can be traced right back to Beethoven. In his youth he studied piano with Moriz Rosenthal, a student of Franz Liszt, who in turn was taught by the great études composer and piano teacher Carl Czerny, himself a student of Beethoven. Following his intense training Rosen pursued a successful career as a concert pianist, appearing in numerous recitals and orchestral engagements around the world.

Rosen is also an acclaimed and prolific writer of books about music. From the unique perspective of a performer, Rosen’s books offer thorough musical analysis of the works of great composers, but also an insightful glimpse into the world of the piano virtuoso – an intense and demanding profession.

Music and Sentiment by Charles Rosen

Music and Sentiment

In Music and Sentiment (out now in paperback) Rosen asks: How does a work of music stir the senses, creating feelings of joy, sadness, elation or nostalgia? Though sentiment and emotion play a vital role in the composition, performance and appreciation of music, rarely have these elements been fully observed. In his succinct and penetrating book, Rosen draws upon more than a half century as a performer and critic to reveal how composers from across the classical music spectrum have used sound to represent and communicate emotion in mystifyingly beautiful ways.

Through a range of musical examples, Rosen details the array of stylistic devices and techniques used to represent or convey sentiment. This is not, however, a listener’s guide to any ‘correct’ response to a particular piece. Instead, Rosen provides the tools and terms with which to appreciate this central aspect of musical aesthetics, and indeed explores the phenomenon of contradictory sentiments embodied in a single motif or melody. Taking examples from Chopin, Schumann, Wagner and Liszt, he traces the use of radically changing intensities in the Romantic works of the nineteenth century (and devotes an entire chapter to the key of C minor!). Rosen identifies a ‘unity of sentiment’ in Baroque music and goes on to contrast it with the ‘obsessive sentiments’ of later composers including Puccini, Strauss, and Stravinsky.

Music and Sentiment is a profound and moving work, an invitation to a greater appreciation of the crafts of composition and performance, from a towering legend of classical music.

Music and Sentiment is available now from Yale University Press. His guide Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion is also available from Yale University Press (this book includes a free CD of Rosen performing extracts from several of the sonatas, illustrating points made in the text).

Charles Rosen Plays Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No.1 in B


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