Charles Rosen, piano

Charles Rosen

Charles Rosen (1927-2012) was an American pianist and music theorist. He has carried out a double career. As a virtuoso pianist he appeared in numerous recitals and orchestral engagements around the world, and recorded a number of 20th century works at the invitation of their composers, including works by Igor Stravinsky, Elliott Carter, and Pierre Boulez. He was also the author of many widely admired books about music.

Charles Rosen started young, with piano lessons at the age of four, then studied at the Juilliard School from ages seven to eleven. For the next six years he was a pupil of Moriz Rosenthal (who in turn had been a pupil of Rafael Joseffy and Franz Liszt). When Rosenthal died in 1946, Rosen continued studying with his widow, Hedwig Kanner-Rosenthal, for a total of eight years. He also studied music theory and composition with Karl Weigl, and at Princeton University majored in music history and romance languages. He received his B.A. summa cum laude in 1947; his M.A, in 1949, and his Ph.D. in 1951 - the year he made his New York piano debut. In addition to concertizing, Rosen taught Modern Languages at M.I.T. (1953-1955), returning to academe in 1971 as Professor of Music at SUNY in Stony Brook. In 1976-1977 he served as Ernest Bloch Professor of Music at U.C. Berkeley; held the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton Chair at Harvard in 1980-81; was George Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford in 1988, and from 1986 until his retirement in 1996, was Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and Music at the University of Chicago.

Pianism and pedagogy were not Rosen's only areas of concentration, however. In 1971 he published the provocative first edition of The Classical Style, reprinted in five languages, and revised in 1997 with an additional chapter. This was marketed with a CD of the author playing L.v. Beethoven's Opp. 106 and 110 sonatas. In 1995 he brought forth The Romantic Generation, which included a spirited and eloquent defense of Berlioz, and in 2000 published a selection of essays as Critical Entertainments. Among 20th century artists he was an intellectual of the first order - perhaps the most authentic of all - not excluding Alfred Brendel or Maurizio Pollini. If Rosen's piano tone was not always ingratiating or his style unbending, at his best he illuminated the keyboard music of Western history's most "serious" composers - from J.S. Bach to I. Stravinsky, Carter and Pierre Boulez, by way of Haydn, Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Robert Schumann, F. Liszt, and J. Brahms. Nothing in his art was ever trivial. As a performer, educator, and writer in one package, Charles Rosen should always be recognized as unique.