Brilliant, practical, and humorous conversations with one of the twentieth-century’s greatest musicologists on art, culture, and the physical pain of playing a difficult passage until one attains its rewards.
Throughout his life, Charles Rosen combined formidable intelligence with immense skill as a concert pianist. He began studying at Juilliard at age seven and went on to inspire a generation of scholars to combine history, aesthetics, and score analysis in what became known as “new musicology.”
The Joy of Playing, the Joy of Thinking presents a master class for music lovers. In interviews originally conducted and published in French, Rosen’s friend Catherine Temerson asks carefully crafted questions to elicit his insights on the evolution of music—not to mention painting, theater, science, and modernism. Rosen touches on the usefulness of aesthetic reflection, the pleasure of overcoming stage fright, and the drama of conquering a technically difficult passage. He tells vivid stories about composers from Chopin and Wagner to Stravinsky and Elliott Carter. In Temerson’s questions and Rosen’s responses arise conundrums both practical and metaphysical. Is it possible to understand a work without analyzing it? Does music exist if it isn’t played?
Throughout, Rosen returns to the theme of sensuality, arguing that if one does not possess a physical craving to play an instrument, then one should choose another pursuit. Rosen takes readers to the heart of the musical matter. “Music is a way of instructing the soul, making it more sensitive,” he says, “but it is useful only insofar as it is pleasurable. This pleasure is manifest to anyone who experiences music as an inexorable need of body and mind.”
Here one really finds oneself in Rosen’s presence, as he starts to spin a line of thought as elegant as any Bellini cantilena.
Rosen shares absorbing anecdotes relating to his studies with Moriz Rosenthal, who had been a student of Liszt, and the time that he inadvertently offended Stravinsky by asking about an assumed printer’s error in a score…It is just the thing for those missing the camaraderie of post-concert chat.
Charles Rosen was a rarity among musicians; he excelled equally at the highest levels of performance and scholarship. This book presents the best kind of intellectual conversation: elevated, wide-ranging, impossible to predict, and sometimes very funny indeed. You’ll wish you could have joined in.
I devoured this scintillating little book with pleasure. What I most appreciate is Charles Rosen’s keen awareness of history—not just of music, but of concurrent literature and visual art. His capacity and readiness to apply the past to understandings of the present is a gift increasingly rare today.
Few could produce such lucid formulations as Charles Rosen, especially in the course of dialogue. A spellbinding conversationalist, he exemplifies the well-rounded humanist no longer common in public discourse. His colleague Catherine Temerson asks carefully crafted questions. No one else could have created this exquisite book.
A surprising treasure. Catherine Temerson’s perceptive questions reveal new insights from Charles Rosen. One comes away from reading the book with the same sense of intellectual excitement and energy that defined an evening’s conversation with the master pianist himself.
- 160 pages
- 4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches
- Belknap Press
- Foreword by Israel Rosenfield
From this author
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