Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Charles Rosen

has died.  So I know that it does look like this blog is becoming an obit page for classical artists, but I had just started rereading The Classical Style a few weeks ago, and was looking to actually get through his books on sonatas and romantic music.  Moreover, his book on the Beethoven piano sonatas has been my main source of interpretive commentary for years when it comes to actually playing them, and I'm not sure if we will ever see someone like him again.

I guess this is maybe my point in highlighting these deaths, because it seems to me that, far more than when Karajan, or Solti, or Bernstein passed on, these deaths are signalling the end of an era.

I find it almost ironic that the New Inquiry, in a recent issue of their magazine on Music and failure, failed to contain even a mention of classical (or whatever you wish to call 1000+ years of a certain kind of) music.  I am sure that this is kind of a generational thing, by which I mean that while people of my age (around 40) still vaguely recall classical music meaning something culturally.  Rather, they can cite Adorno and Horkheimer pissing on pop music, and fail to note the fact that Adorno spent far more time discussing and dissecting Schoenberg and Webern than he ever did hating jazz.

Does anyone even read Adorno's work on music anymore?  No, and it's mainly because no one really listens to the composers he spent so much time dealing with.  To paraphrase Boulez, Adorno is Dead. 

And you know what, just to be perfectly clear?  I'm not saying that popular music sucks or any of the "gotcha" crap myself, and most classical musicians, have had to endure for years because the culture industry is built around a false dichotomy of high vs. low.  That's not my point.  My point is that the high is not even taken intellectually seriously by ostensibly intellectually serious people. 

It's especially poignant when you see that while everyone still cites Adorno, no one speaks about Henze or Nono, who were very much part of the same cultural space and who actually wrote music that engaged in the very aesthetic debates Adorno was engaging in. 

I'm not really slagging the writers of that journal either. I'm just pointing out that, no one there thought for a moment that a high theory journal, when producing an issue about music, should deal with anything other than popular music.  One can be ridiculously well read in philosophy, theory, literature and art, and know nothing about Schoenberg.  I think that sucks but that is most definitely The Way Things Are. They are a product of their time as much as Rosen is a product of his.

To sum up, Charles Rosen occupied a cultural space where this music, which I (perhaps quixotically) believe is still relevant, was, in fact, culturally relevant.  Beyond all this, his books are really great - rigourous and opinionated introductions to some very important moments in western musical history, and I hope they remain relevant (or at least available) for a long time after his death.


Marlo Alexandra Burks said...

If it makes you feel any better, Henze came up in one of the symposium papers last weekend. Then again, a lot of the speakers there were of an older, emeritus-status generation.

smartygirl said...

I watched "A Night at the Opera" with my son last night, and thought wow, I bet no younguns watching today would see that clown costume and instantly know he's Pagliacci. Back then, it was a given that anyone going to see a blockbuster slapstick comedy would get all the references.

Of course, kids these days probably aren't watching the Marx Brothers, either. The current crop Hollywood comedies don't have time for an interlude of harp playing.

Andrew W. said...

What's funny is that even in the 90's that was seen as a fairly reliable opera trope - Seinfeld used it in one of his episodes!