12-13-12 Passionate and Erudite






Charles Rosen

1927 – 2012 



How could you not love him?

In the December 11 Los Angeles Times, David Ng wrote: In his long career, Rosen combined a concert pianist’s virtuosity with a well-rounded cultural erudition that made him a forceful and sometimes feared presence in New York’s intellectual circles.”

A man who knew things. He wasn’t one to indulge in pub talk. He delved into sources, comparing, testing, and for him it wasn’t dull, tedious work. It was filled with joy, easy this learning, which he wanted to pass on. He gave a lecture in 2010 on Chopin in Orange County, California without notes, following it up with a piano recital. At parties in New York after talking about a piece he would rush to the piano to play it. Debussy, Stravinsky, Elliot Carter.

He said he was a pianist who fell into writing because the liner notes on one of his albums were so bad, he decided he must write them himself. The writing expanded to fill volumes. Among them is The Classical Style, winner of a National Book award, which speaks to the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. As he died, this latest issue of the NYRB arrived in post office boxes with an essay on a writer from the 1600′s, Congreve: The Most Elegant, Subtle Writer of His Time.

It was a revelation to me, the name William Congreve a possible misty memory.  Mr. Rosen began his review this way:

“Shortly after the opening of John Vanbrugh’s comedy of 1697, The Provoked Wife, two ladies discuss what they would do if they discovered their husbands were unfaithful.  The first lady declares that she would pay him back in his own coin, but the second protests that we were taught to return good for evil.  On thinking this over, the first lady remarks, ‘That may be a mistake in the translation.’ The new independence of women could affect even biblical criticism.”

Mr. Rosen quotes and compares Vanbrugh, William Wycherley, Thomas Southerne and others too numerous to name with William Congreve, making a 21st century feminist’s head spin. Young writers of today who believe the revolution began with their first sexual congress might want to check out the 17th century. The poesy quoted below offers cheer this holiday season.

A mistress is a name implies command:

Nor shall the scepter fail within my hand:

But if you wou’d take back that pow’r you gave,

Marry the woman you wou’d make a slave.


Photograph by Hiroyuki Ito, Getty Images


No responses yet

Leave a Reply