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Monday, December 10, 2012

Obituary: Charles Rosen (1927-2012)

Pianist, educator, author was 85.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist and author Charles Rosen from the cover of his book
 Music and Sentiment. Image © 2010 Yale University Press. 

Photo from the Lebrecht Archive at
Charles Rosen, the pianist, author and educator whose written works included The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation has died in New York. He was 85.

Dr. Rosen started his study of the piano at the age of four. He was an accomplished performer whose teachers included Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946) a pupil of Franz Liszt. However, the pianist Józef Hoffmann was his most important influence.

In a 2007 interview with BBC Music Magazine, Dr. Rosen recounted a story from when he was 7. Young Charles was asked to play for the pianist and composer Leopold Godowsky, himself a superstar of the keyboard. When asked by the older man what he wanted to be when he grew up, the youth said: "A pianist just like Józef Hoffmann."

The  made his share of recordings and concert appearances, preserving performances of music that ranged from Scarlatti and Bach to his friend (and contemporary) Elliott Carter. However, he focused his later life's work on educating musical minds, through classes at Oxford, Harvard, Stony Brook and the University of Chicago.

Although he was not technically a musicologist, Dr. Rosen is remembered for several important (and well loved) texts on music history and the development of the standard piano and symphonic repertory. The Classical Style (1971) received the U.S. National Book Award. His last book was Music and Sentiment, published in 2010.

He was an expert on the works of Franz Liszt. At a Carnegie Hall "Discovery Day" in late 2011, (the year of Liszt's bicentennial) I was present to see Dr. Rosen get into an argument on stage in the Weill Recital Hall with Liszt biographer Alan Walker. At issue: the "kitsch" factor in Liszt's piano writing, and some question of the Hungarian composer's debt to the works of Fréderic Chopin.

The debate was settled when Dr. Rosen picked up his cane, walked over to the piano sitting behind them. He sat down and played the passage from memory, illustrating his point.

Mr. Rosen received another honor late in life, when he was invited to the East Room of the White House in February of 2012 to receive the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.

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