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Freedom and the Arts

Freedom and the Arts

Essays on Music and Literature

Charles Rosen

ISBN 9780674047525

Publication date: 05/21/2012

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Is there a moment in history when a work receives its ideal interpretation? Or is negotiation always required to preserve the past and accommodate the present? The freedom of interpretation, Charles Rosen suggests in these sparkling explorations of music and literature, exists in a delicate balance with fidelity to the identity of the original work.

Rosen cautions us to avoid doctrinaire extremes when approaching art of the past. To understand Shakespeare only as an Elizabethan or Jacobean theatergoer would understand him, or to modernize his plays with no sense of what they bring from his age, deforms the work, making it less ambiguous and inherently less interesting. For a work to remain alive, it must change character over time while preserving a valid witness to its earliest state. When twentieth-century scholars transformed Mozart’s bland, idealized nineteenth-century image into that of a modern revolutionary expressionist, they paradoxically restored the reputation he had among his eighteenth-century contemporaries. Mozart became once again a complex innovator, challenging to perform and to understand.

Drawing on a variety of critical methods, Rosen maintains that listening or reading with intensity—for pleasure—is the one activity indispensable for full appreciation. It allows us to experience multiple possibilities in literature and music, and to avoid recognizing only the revolutionary elements of artistic production. By reviving the sense that works of art have intrinsic merits that bring pleasure, we justify their continuing existence.

Praise

  • Even those of us who admire Charles Rosen as the most remarkable critic writing today must be startled by the polymathy in his new collection, Freedom and the Arts… Just to see the spectrum provided by [his essays’] titles is to marvel: ‘Structural Dissonance and the Classical Sonata,’ ‘Theodore Adorno: Criticism as Cultural Nostalgia,’ ‘Lost Chords and the Golden Age of Pianism,’ ‘La Fontaine: The Ethical Power of Style,’ ‘Hofmannsthal and Radical Modernism.’ To read them is to marvel further: Rosen’s communicative power is as prodigious as his versatility. Each essay includes so much more than its specific topic. Large-mindedness matters more here than scholarship; cleverness is simply incidental… No other living critic has produced a corpus that so fully exemplifies the virtues and achievements of civilization. It’s easy to believe that we will need to keep revisiting Freedom and the Arts. As I turn in these pages from bygone traditions of dislocation (also known as asynchronization or limping) in piano playing to the connections between cruelty and eroticism in the Marquis de Sade, and from the sound patterns in La Fontaine’s poetry to the skill of Niccolò Jommelli’s setting of recitative secco in his opera Olimpiade, I can’t help laughing in amazement. Who else in the world could make all these things lucid, sensuous, and important? … We return to Rosen not to remind ourselves of his greatness but to come to a better understanding of Mozart’s and Mallarmé’s, to enrich our appetites for classicism, Romanticism, and modernism, and to deepen our love of music, literature, and civilization. Despite the casual disdain he often expresses for fools, his primary task is always to write about the art in which he takes pleasure.

    —Alastair Macaulay, New York Review of Books

Author

  • Charles Rosen was a concert pianist, Professor of Music and Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and the author of numerous books, including The Classical Style, The Romantic Generation (Harvard), and Freedom and the Arts (Harvard).

Book Details

  • 448 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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