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Freedom and the Arts

Freedom and the Arts: Essays on Music and Literature

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 410
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  • Book Info
    Freedom and the Arts
    Book Description:

    Is there a moment in history when a work receives its ideal interpretation? Or is perpetual negotiation required to preserve the past and accommodate the present? The freedom of interpretation, Charles Rosen suggests in these sparkling explorations, exists in a delicate balance with fidelity to the identity of the original work.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06549-9
    Subjects: Music, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    We might all agree that a knowledge of the historical and biographical circumstances that saw the production of a work of literature or music or even an analytic study of them may often help us to a greater understanding and to the increase of pleasure that comes with understanding. Nevertheless, one brute fact often overlooked needs to be forced upon our consideration: most works of art are more or less intelligible and give pleasure without any kind of historical, biographical, or structural analysis. There are always some aspects of the work which do not need our critical industry or demand...

  5. PART I. The Weight of Society

    • CHAPTER 1 Freedom and Art
      (pp. 7-14)

      That great eccentric of the Enlightenment, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who put into his private notebooks just about everything that came into his head, once jotted down: “Whoever decreed that a word must have a fixed meaning?” He was perhaps the first to recognize the psychic constraint involved in the perception of meaning and the attempt to make it firm.

      In his discussion of humor, Sigmund Freud deals with this laconically by a profound reflection. The mechanical structure of psychoanalytical theory is now rightfully laboring under some discredit, but Freud’s literary genius gave him insights that are still valuable. After treating...

    • CHAPTER 2 Culture on the Market
      (pp. 15-23)

      Some thirty years ago, the then head of CBS Records, Clive Davis, sent out a directive that no recording was to be undertaken if the recovery of its costs could not be projected within one year’s sale in the United States. Accordingly, the plan to record Mozart’s Serenade for Thirteen Wind instruments with George Szell and members of the Cleveland Orchestra was canceled. One of the producers at CBS was properly indignant. “Doesn’t he know that we’re an international company?” he said to me. “The sale of classical music in Japan is twice that of the United States, the sale...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Future of Music
      (pp. 24-38)

      Since music is a primitive and essential human activity its survival is not in question. By many eighteenth-century thinkers it was held to be the original form of language, the origin of speech. If there is a question of survival, it is of Western art music, or serious music, what is called “classical” music. That its survival is in jeopardy is an opinion expressed largely by journalists and by a few disgruntled critics. This is, however, a view that has been surfacing regularly for the last 230 years. It was even passionately maintained more than four centuries ago. I presume...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Canon
      (pp. 39-48)

      A museum, it is now generally realized, deforms and disfigures the works of art it contains. It wrenches the pictures and statues out of the churches, palaces, and homes from which they drew their life and much of their significance, and exhibits them in an apparently neutral space, an intellectual void. Some of their functions have been wiped out; a good part of their meaning is lost. The walls have a color and texture different from the ones that originally set off the works of art, so that the harmony of the paint and the marble has been denatured, the...

  6. PART II. Mostly Mozart

    • CHAPTER 5 Dramatic and Tonal Logic in Mozart’s Operas
      (pp. 51-63)

      Writing in 1966, Meyer Schapiro explained more persuasively than anyone else why writing about the unity of a work of art has given rise to so much dubious critical speculation and, at the same time, why the subject is not one that can be evaded or dismissed:

      I have argued that we do not see all of a work when we see it as a whole. We strive to see it as completely as possible and in a unifying way, though seeing is selective and limited. Critical seeing, aware of the incompleteness of perception, is explorative and dwells on details...

    • CHAPTER 6 Mozart’s Entry into the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 64-72)

      Another book in English on Mozart might not seem to be a pressing need just now after the extravagant outpouring of the 250th anniversary of his birth, but we have waited a long time for this one. When, eighty-eight years ago, Hermann Abert’s W. A. Mozart appeared, it was recognized as the most authoritative survey of the composer’s life and works. (It claimed to be a revision of Otto Jahn’s pathbreaking life of Mozart of 1882, but in fact almost nothing was left of Jahn; when one of Jahn’s observations does appear in Abert, it is quoted as if from...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Triumph of Mozart
      (pp. 73-78)

      James H. Johnson’s Listening in Paris is an original book filled with good things. It takes up the way people listened to music in Paris, starting with the operas of Rameau in the mid-eighteenth century, and ending with the chapters “Beethoven Triumphant” and “The Musical Experience of Romanticism.” Johnson traces the development of attentiveness, the change from an audience that chattered sociably during fashionable operas to a public that listened in religious silence. His book is an essay in the history of aesthetic “reception,” that is, it deals with the public response to the revolutionary transformations in the nature of...

    • CHAPTER 8 Drama and Figured Bass in Mozart’s Concertos
      (pp. 79-113)

      In his excellent book on Beethoven’s concertos, Professor Leon Plantinga has written that I claim that Leopold Mozart (and, by implication, Wolfgang as well of course) “made use of continuo playing for concertos only at home, and only in the absence of winds.”¹ In fact, I never denied that Mozart played continuo in public performances of his concertos. I did, however, claim that it was largely inaudible except to members of the orchestra, and I also asserted that although continuo playing still had a practical function in the late eighteenth century, it was “musically, if not practically, dead.”

      I see...

    • CHAPTER 9 Mozart and Posterity
      (pp. 114-120)

      In 1783, when Mozart was only twenty-seven years old, the teacher of the thirteen-year-old Beethoven in Bonn said that “he would certainly become another Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart if he continues as he has begun.” Evidently Mozart had recovered from the often damning reputation of a child prodigy and was already accepted as one of the leading European masters, although outside the German-speaking countries (and even within them) his music was often contested for its difficulty, complexity, and unintelligibility until well into the nineteenth century. We may conveniently assess the character of Mozart’s fame by the poets and artists to whom...

    • CHAPTER 10 Structural Dissonance and the Classical Sonata
      (pp. 121-134)

      Rules of musical form are of two kinds. Some are simply conventions of the age in which the art work is produced: eighteenth-century sonata rondos, for example, often have a central section in the subdominant. Eighteenth-century minuets generally have a three-phrase form, the first phrase repeated, and the second and third phrases repeated together. The development section (sometimes called the second solo) of a piano concerto almost always has lots of arpeggios. These are rules, subject to exceptions, of course, like the rule that sonnets have fourteen lines, since we find extravagant sonnets with long codas and eccentric minuets with...

    • CHAPTER 11 Tradition without Convention
      (pp. 135-168)

      Some years ago, when I was practicing a difficult passage in the Concerto in B-Flat Major, K. 450, by Mozart, I found that I had absentmindedly strayed into a similar virtuoso phrase from another B-flat Concerto, the last one, K. 595:

      Both these phrases represent typical Mozartean virtuosity in B-flat major. We can find other examples in the Finale of the Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 333 (this movement, indeed, is written like a concerto rondo arranged for solo piano and mimics the relation of orchestra to soloist throughout)—

      —and in the Sonata for Piano and Violin, K. 454, also...

  7. PART III. Centenaries

    • CHAPTER 12 Felix Mendelssohn at 200: Prodigy without Peer
      (pp. 171-177)

      In his new biography of Mendelssohn, R. Larry Todd recounts the story of Berlioz and Mendelssohn and their heated argument in 1831 about religion, while walking in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. Mendelssohn defended his Lutheran faith while Berlioz expressed his more outrageously modern views. Mendelssohn then slipped and fell on some ruins. “Look at that for an example of divine justice,” Berlioz exclaimed. “I blaspheme, you fall.” The two composers were then very young—Mendelssohn was twenty-three and Berlioz only a few years older, but Mendelssohn was already internationally famous, while Berlioz remained a controversial figure for all...

    • CHAPTER 13 Happy Birthday, Elliott Carter!
      (pp. 178-186)

      Turning one hundred years old on December 11, 2008, Elliott Carter must have found the experience exhilarating and rejuvenating. When I went to see him on the afternoon of his birthday, he was hard at work on a song cycle for soprano and clarinet on poems by Louis Zukofsky. He looked younger than six months before—in fact, younger than six years before. That night, the Boston Symphony, directed by James Levine, played a new work of his, Interventions for Piano and Orchestra, with Daniel Barenboim as soloist. A few days later, a party of a dozen of his friends...

    • CHAPTER 14 Frédéric Chopin, Reactionary and Revolutionary
      (pp. 187-192)

      When Chopin, born two hundred years ago in 1810, died in 1849 at the age of thirty-nine, his work was firmly established as a permanent part of the central musical tradition, his influence felt throughout the musical world of the West. Critical opinion, however, even among his greatest admirers was by no means wholeheartedly favorable. Having devoted himself almost entirely to the piano (along with three works for the cello), and with no symphony, no opera, no liturgical work, he could not be granted the status of a truly major figure. Because of his fragile health and the extraordinary grace...

    • CHAPTER 15 Robert Schumann, a Vision of the Future
      (pp. 193-200)

      Of all the composers who have made a permanent contribution to the standard concert repertoire and who have radically altered the subsequent history of classical music, Robert Schumann, whose bicentenary we celebrate this year, has inspired the greatest misunderstanding. The misunderstanding began with his own conception of his genius and his place in history.

      As a young man in Leipzig, by the age of twenty-nine he created a revolutionary new form of piano music, a collection of character pieces—portraits of friends, popular dances, landscape or mood pictures—that were not just heard as individual numbers but that formed a...

  8. PART IV. Long Perspectives

    • CHAPTER 16 The New Grove’s Dictionary Returns
      (pp. 203-209)

      The bibliophile and founding father of French Romanticism, Charles Nodier—or, rather, his invented alter ego, the bibliomaniac Théodore—walking in Paris along the quais of the Seine lined for several miles with secondhand booksellers, was appalled at the vast quantity of recent books remaindered and exposed to the rain and the urban dust, “the inept scraps of modern literature never to be ancient literature…. The quais henceforth are only the morgue of contemporary celebrities!”¹ The miles of dead literature arranged in rows were, and still are, terrifying to behold.

      Contemplating the development of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians...

    • CHAPTER 17 Western Music: The View from California
      (pp. 210-239)

      A history of Western music is, more or less, a history of all the music that has a history—that is, a large body of musical works that stretch from a distant past to the present through a series of stylistic revolutions. Other civilizations, India in particular, have magnificent musical traditions, but few authentic, documented musical works survive from their past. Only in the West was there an elaborate system of notation that delivered the musical artifacts of more than a millennium to the future, and, as a consequence, only in the West has there been an extravagant historical development...

    • POSTSCRIPT: Modernism and the Cold War
      (pp. 240-247)

      My friends let me know that Professor Taruskin has written an article entitled “Afterword: Nicht blutbefleckt?” in the Journal of Musicology vol. 26, no. 2 (2009), partially devoted to answering my review of his History of Western Music. In this answer he declares himself “as one who regards Rosen’s literary output—all of it—as Cold War propaganda.”

      This seems sufficiently extreme and provocative to warrant a few observations. For the most part, following the recent work of a few musicologists largely hostile to most modernist style, Taruskin maintains that whatever success and prestige in music and painting American modernism...

    • CHAPTER 18 Theodor Adorno: Criticism as Cultural Nostalgia
      (pp. 248-263)

      No art appears as remote as music from the life and the society that produce it. Painting and sculpture reflect some aspects of the figures and objects, or at least the forms and colors that we encounter; novels and poems convey experiences and aspirations that recall, however distantly, the world that we know. The sounds of music, however, are artificial and set apart: even sung music does not give the sound of speech, and instrumental music has little to do with the noises that we come upon in our daily life, and can seem to be even more abstract than...

    • CHAPTER 19 Resuscitating Opera: Alessandro Scarlatti
      (pp. 264-277)

      It should be a cause for rejoicing that much of our ignorance of the history of music is permanent, irrevocable. In economic and social history, a statistical sampling or a well-established general trend can sometimes stand in for a large number of missing specific facts: we do not need to know the details of every market transaction, every marriage contract. In the history of music, as of any other art, nothing can supply the absence of the individual work. Knowledge of the work itself is not simply one of the prerequisites of research in music history, but the goal. Economic...

    • CHAPTER 20 Operatic Paradoxes: The Ridiculous and Sublime
      (pp. 278-289)

      The most prestigious of musical forms, opera is also traditionally the most absurd, the most irrational. No musical dictionary could ever deal adequately with the nonsense of opera. It is true that other forms of musical activity—or of life in general—are equally shot through with absurdity: ridiculous jokes about violists and equally ridiculous but true stories about deranged conductors are a sufficient testimony. Nevertheless, in orchestral life competent violists are the rule rather than the exception, and rational conductors may be discovered, while a certain extravagant absurdity is inseparable from opera, and even helps to define it.


    • CHAPTER 21 Lost Chords and the Golden Age of Pianism
      (pp. 290-300)

      Performance practice is a wonderfully speculative branch of musicology with an eminently practical side: it discovers how the music of the past was played and helps us to perform it today. The discipline began in the nineteenth century with the study of late medieval and Reniassance vocal polyphony, making it possible to hear again the now canonical works from Josquin des Prez to Palestrina and Orlandus Lassus. Of course, we have almost no idea how this music actually sounded in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Later, research went into the performance of the seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Baroque tradition;...

  9. PART V. Classical Modernism:: Past and Present

    • CHAPTER 22 Montaigne: Philosophy as Process
      (pp. 303-318)

      Montaigne remarked that when someone dwelt on the language, the style, of his Essays, “I would prefer that he shut up” (j’aimerois mieux qu’il s’en teust).¹ It was, above all, the objective content of which he was proud, more material and denser, he says, than in other writers. But, as he observes at once, his meaning is not always straightforward. To his essay “Considerations on Cicero,” published in 1580, he added the following passage many years later:

      Neither my anecdotes nor my quotations are always employed simply as examples, for authority, or for ornament. I do not consider them only...

    • CHAPTER 23 La Fontaine: The Ethical Power of Style
      (pp. 319-338)

      On the second of May, 1684, La Fontaine, now aged sixty-two, was admitted to the Académie Française, taking the seat of the Prime Minister Colbert, who had died the year before. Colbert had been ill-disposed toward the poet for a long time, and was the principal agent many years before in the arrest and imprisonment of La Fontaine’s patron, Nicolas Fouquet. For more than six months, Louis XIV refused to ratify La Fontaine’s election. When the ceremony of admission finally took place, the speech of welcome was made by the abbé de La Chambre, director of the Académie, who remarked...

    • CHAPTER 24 The Anatomy Lesson: Melancholy and the Invention of Boredom
      (pp. 339-352)

      Long ago, when reading a lengthy, serious, and technical book was considered an agreeable and even entertaining way of passing the time, Richard Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy was a best seller. This was a curious fate for a superannuated medical treatise written in the early seventeenth century not by a doctor, but by a reclusive clergyman and scholar at the University of Oxford who set out to write on melancholy and made it the occasion to take up much else as well. During his lifetime the book went through six editions. From 1621 to 1651 it grew considerably in...

    • CHAPTER 25 Mallarmé and the Transfiguration of Poetry
      (pp. 353-367)

      On Thursday, February 27, 1890, in the salon of Berthe Morisot in Paris, stéphane Mallarmé gave a lecture on his recently deceased friend, the poet Villiers de l’Isle-Adam. “A man accustomed to dream comes here to speak of another, who is dead,” he began. In the first row sat Edgar Degas, an admirer of Mallarmé (whose masterly photograph of Mallarmé and Renoir was one of the most beautiful exhibits at the Musée d’Orsay in last year’s commemoration of the centenary of Mallarmé’s death). After a few minutes Degas left precipitously, holding his head in his hands, and crying, “I do...

    • CHAPTER 26 Hofmannsthal and Radical Modernism
      (pp. 368-382)

      From the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, many young men and women would go through a spell of writing lyric poetry in late adolescence, abandoning the practice forever when they reached the age of reason around twenty-one years old. However, those who failed to persist beyond this cut-off date never achieved great fame as poets, with two remarkable exceptions at the end of the nineteenth century: Arthur Rimbaud, who composed some of the most memorable verse of his time from the age of fourteen to twenty-one between 1868 and 1875, after which he abandoned literature for the rest of his...

    • CHAPTER 27 The Private Obsessions of Wystan Auden
      (pp. 383-394)

      At the age of thirty-one, Wystan Hugh Auden, the major British poet between A. E. Houseman and Philip Larkin (with a range of styles, techniques, forms, and themes far greater than either), left England to settle in New York for the rest of his life until a year before his death. Other poets of the twentieth century had chosen life abroad, notably T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, but they quit their native land early in their twenties at the beginning of their careers. When Auden went into a self-imposed exile in 1939, he had already achieved a firmly established...

  10. PART VI. Final Cadence, Unresolved

    • CHAPTER 28 Old Wisdom and Newfangled Theory: Two One-Way Streets to Disaster
      (pp. 397-420)

      There are basically two ways to kill a tradition. The first is a stiff-necked adherence to established practices, rejecting any adjustment for the changes in outlook and new ideals that naturally come to pass in time, an adherence that transforms and exhibits the works of the past as a collection of fossils; this approach rests on a belief that works of art or of general culture are fixed objects, forever unalterable, and incapable of development in time. The second way is a process of radical modernization that takes no account of history and brings the tradition up to date while...

  11. Credits
    (pp. 423-424)
  12. Index of Names and Works
    (pp. 425-438)