Charles Rosen is one of the world's most talented pianists -- and one of music's most astute commentators. Known as a performer of Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Elliott Carter, he has also written highly acclaimed criticism for sophisticated students and professionals.
In Piano Notes, he writes for a broader audience about an old friend -- the piano itself. Drawing upon a lifetime of wisdom and the accumulated lore of many great performers of the past, Rosen shows why the instrument demands such a stark combination of mental and physical prowess. Readers will gather many little-known insights -- from how pianists vary their posture, to how splicings and microphone placements can ruin recordings, to how the history of composition was dominated by the piano for two centuries. Stories of many great musicians abound. Rosen reveals Nadia Boulanger's favorite way to avoid commenting on the performances of her friends ("You know what I think," spoken with utmost earnestness), why Glenn Gould's recordings suffer from "double-strike" touches, and how even Vladimir Horowitz became enamored of splicing multiple performances into a single recording. Rosen's explanation of the piano's physical pleasures, demands, and discontents will delight and instruct anyone who has ever sat at a keyboard, as well as everyone who loves to listen to the instrument.
In the end, he strikes a contemplative note. Western music was built around the piano from the classical era until recently, and for a good part of that time the instrument was an essential acquisition for every middle-class household. Music making was part of the fabric of social life. Yet those days have ended. Fewer people learn the instrument today. The rise of recorded music has homogenized performance styles and greatly reduced the frequency of public concerts. Music will undoubtedly survive, but will the supremely physical experience of playing the piano ever be the same?
"Music is not just sound or even significant sound.... There has to be a genuine love simply of the mechanics and difficulties of playing, a physical need for the contact with the keyboard," writes Rosen, a concert pianist, music critic and National Book Award winner (for 1970's The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven). He explores those mechanics, difficulties and more in this thoughtful and wide-reaching blend of history, homage and memoir. In a slightly uptight but obviously learned manner, the author explains the various elements that the piano-playing experience entails, from a child's understanding of the fingering for a C major scale to an accomplished concert pianist's position on her stool. Rosen is mainly concerned with the physicalities of playing the instrument, and he takes readers from concert halls, discussing the order of pieces to be performed lest a pianist follow a work in E-flat major by one in D major to the recording studio, examining the facility with which one can splice piano music. Although nearly all of Rosen's examples are from the music of Bach, Debussy, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and other classical musicians which may alienate readers who play jazz or popular piano his musings are indeed modern; he ponders what will become of the "dinosaur"-like piano in the 22nd century and addresses the problems of performing in a country where piano concerts are only de rigueur in large cities. Filled with trivia and thought-provoking commentary, Rosen's book is a sometimes dense, but important, study of the physical factors involved in tickling the ivories.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
February 02, 2004
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Piano Notes by Charles Rosen
This is a book about the experience of playing the piano. It is not an autobiography, although I have had to draw on some personal anecdotes, but it concerns the experience of playing relevant to all pianists, amateur as well as professional. What has interested me most of all is the relation of the physical act of playing to those aspects of music generally considered more intellectual, spiritual, and emotional, the different ways that body and spirit interact. I have concentrated mostly on professional experience since I know it best, and also because the amateur ideal today is largely derived from the professional standard, but I write for listeners as well as pianists. I have certainly not attempted to tell pianists how they must play. Although my own prejudices have naturally intruded, I have at least tried to keep them under control. There are many valid approaches to the instrument and to its repertoire -- and if I occasionally find some approaches invalid, I am not stiff-necked about them, and not wedded permanently to my opinions. I have been most intent on conveying the variety of experience of playing, its torments and its delights.
The temptation is great to write inspirational prose in the grand style about an experience as intense as playing is for any committed pianist. I am embarrassed when I read that kind of prose, however, as the intensity of feeling is only made factitious by being diluted with words, so I have largely preferred to let that intensity be taken for granted. I adore the grand style and I am intrigued by grand synthetic theories, but I am suspicious of teachers who claim to have invented the only successful method for bringing out the best in young performers, of theorists who claim to have invented the unique approach to analysis, and of historians who wish to reduce all the developments of the musical style of the past entirely to the determinism of social conditions. Of course, the place of music in society influences the way we listen and play, but there are so many cases when a composer or pianist produces work badly fitted to the conditions of his or her own time but that turns out for some few contemporaries and then for a later period to be of great value. I have also attempted to discuss the constraints that cause pianists to play in ways to which they are not really committed, and have ventured to speculate briefly on the decisive role the instrument has played in both the history of composition and the reception of music today. Above all, I have tried to become more aware myself of the powerful and peculiar motives that drive some of us to the piano instead of to the violin, the guitar, or the record-player, and of the odd difficulties that this decision creates in our lives.