Music and Sentiment


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Charles Rosen

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Acclaimed pianist and writer Charles Rosen explores music’s profound ability to convey emotion through sound

How does a work of music stir the senses, creating feelings of joy, sadness, elation, or nostalgia? Though sentiment and emotion play a vital role in the composition, performance, and appreciation of music, rarely have these elements been fully observed. In this succinct and penetrating book, Charles Rosen draws upon more than a half century as a performer and critic to reveal how composers from Bach to Berg have used sound to represent and communicate emotion in mystifyingly beautiful ways.

Through a range of musical examples, Rosen details the array of stylistic devices and techniques used to represent or convey sentiment. This is not, however, a listener’s guide to any “correct” response to a particular piece. Instead, Rosen provides the tools and terms with which to appreciate this central aspect of musical aesthetics, and indeed explores the phenomenon of contradictory sentiments embodied in a single motif or melody. Taking examples from Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, and Liszt, he traces the use of radically changing intensities in the Romantic works of the nineteenth century and devotes an entire chapter to the key of C minor. He identifies a “unity of sentiment” in Baroque music and goes on to contrast it with the “obsessive sentiments” of later composers including Puccini, Strauss, and Stravinsky. A profound and moving work, Music and Sentiment is an invitation to a greater appreciation of the crafts of composition and performance.

Charles Rosen is an internationally renowned writer and pianist. His numerous books include Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, published by Yale University Press.

'Rosen is a performer of the utmost distinction whose writing exactly mirrors his playing: subtle, precise, penetrating and intended to challenge. … His analysis is so clear and cogent, so evidently deals with the very life-blood of the pieces in question, that if you're prepared to stay the course, he reveals with surgical precision the actual processes that so affect you. … Should you want to open yourself to what is there in the greatest music, this book is not just a companion, but an education.' - Simon Callow, Guardian

"Rosen continuously reveals and explains the fantastic, largely unglimpsed, subtlety of music's expressive vocabulary…This book could be a revelation even to the musically illiterate."—Jeremy Siepmann, BBC Music Magazine

"Rosen is among the most consistently enlightening of writers….In this stimulating, thoroughly recommendable book, including dozens of music examples, Rosen once again enriches our understanding of music."—Philip Borg-Wheeler, Classical Music

"…the number of composers about whom he [Rosen] has illuminating things to say, even if only in passing, is remarkable."—Michael Tanner, Literary Review

"These lectures, bristling with musical examples and detailed analysis, tackle the tricky question of how music expresses emotion."—Adam Lively, The Sunday Times

“It’s striking that one of the most genially authoritative English-language polymaths should be primarily a writer on music, just about our best, indeed.”—Paul Driver, Musical Times

"This book is definitely worth reading, and taking to heart."—Brian Morton, The Tablet

"Rosen offers a compelling examination of the 'power' that the great composers have exerted on our sensibilities."—New Statesman

"It is refreshing to see a musical thinker of Charles Rosen's quality tackling a topic once considered almost irrelevant to serious analytical study."—Julian Haylock, International Piano

"Excellent. . . convincing. . . written in a highly-accessible style that will appeal to specialist and generalist alike."—Mark Sealey, Classical Net

"A marvellous text—a civilized, provocative and delightful extended essay [in which] Rosen points the reader in the direction of old friends, musically speaking, and finds new things to say about them, all without a shred of unnecessary jargon."—Nigel Simeone, University of Sheffield

"There are not many musicians who can convey the essence of music in an exciting way, and even fewer can support their opinions with knowledge of the practical, theoretical, and historical aspects of music. Charles Rosen is one of the few examples of the 'Renaissance Man' in musical matters, eminent not only as pianist but also as author and music critic. . . . He brings convincing arguments and through his immense knowledge he has no trouble finding interesting contradictions to commonly held views."—American Record Guide
ISBN: 9780300178036
Publication Date: December 6, 2011
160 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Music examples throughout
Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

A Short Companion

Charles Rosen

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