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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.


  • You can get lost in the world of Charles Rosen. He's quite possibly the richest cultural critic writing today in the vastness of what he offers...As a formidable pianist and a professor emeritus of music at the University of Chicago, his principal jumping off point is, of course, music. But once he jumps, he lands into psychology, literature, science, philosophy, art---everything that's in the primordial humanities brew...He deals in mountains of knowledge, and he covers more ground with that knowledge than anyone writing today. The title of this collection does not lie: the power he imparts on you the reader will set you free.

    —Jimmy So, Daily Beast


  • 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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