Freedom and the Arts: Essays on Music and Literature

Charles Rosen, Author
Charles Rosen. Harvard Univ., $35 (434p) ISBN 978-0-674-04752-5
Reviewed on: 07/30/2012
Release date: 05/01/2012
Book - 449 pages - 978-0-674-06549-9
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Rosen (The Classical Style) writes early on in this erudite study that "The partial freedom of, and from, meaning that is the natural result of aesthetic form is made possible by the exploitation of an inherent fluidity." If readers can parse that excerpt, they'll find plenty of remarkable insights in this exploration of how best to balance the appreciation of an artwork at a personal and intellectual level with the artwork's purposive autonomy. Focusing mainly on music (whose arguably non-referential constituent parts allow for the freest construction of meaning), Rosen does not discount historical or sociological criticism as hermeneutic structures, but posits these as secondary in importance to a direct encounter with artworks. Rosen's articles—geared always towards the acquisition of aesthetic insight—are rooted as much in practice as in observation. An evident polymath, he writes with equal grace and intelligence about the music of Mozart, the poetry of Mallarmé, and Adorno's aesthetic framework. The overlap of critical observation and playfulness is evident throughout, but casual readers beware—Rosen is no Malcolm Gladwell. This is a decidedly scholarly work, and Rosen has plenty to offer disciplined readers and students of the arts. (May)
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