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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Romantic Generation - Charles Rosen

That's a very tired looking Charles Rosen on the left, exhausted by his epic writing efforts over the years. He made his first big impression with "The Classical Style", which was soon followed by "Sonata Forms". I don't have a big thing for the second half of the 18th Century, Enlightenment Ideals apart, all the good stuff was going on in the early 1700's with Newton, and Pope, and Samuel Johnson, but that's getting away from things. Charles Rosen's key contribution to the musical literature, and musical understanding is undoubtedly "The Romantic Generation". Essentially a chapter by chapter examination of the key composers of the 1830-1860's, we cover Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Berlioz.

It's heavy hitting, with 10 bar excerpts, and translated German philosophy, and it tracks the gradual weakening of the tonal system until finally Liszt and Wagner have mashed it all together - tonality eventually becomes a sequence of keys, there is no root, we have left the safe shores of Eden, and like Cain and Abel, we can fight over the scraps - who wants a C? an E flat? it's yours for the taking.

This was the book that transformed my understanding of what the Romantics were on about. How the prevailing sense of feeling, Empfigsamkeit, and passion, thanks to Beethoven, translated itself into musical notes and forms, and the consequences that had for musical Perception, musical Consumption, and Musical Taste.

Charles Rosen deserves a Symphony for this contribution. Here's his profile from Harvard University Press. Here.