The Frontiers of Meaning

Charles Rosen, Author
Charles Rosen, Author Hill & Wang $21 (145p) ISBN 978-0-8090-7254-5
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In lectures given in Rome in 1993--which were cosponsored by the publisher and the New York Review of Books , and are collected here--Rosen ( The Classical Style ) tackles the difficult question of how we understand music. He contends that because music has no fixed meaning, the only conclusion we can reach is that music makes sense when we are comfortable with it. He demonstrates this with passages from works by Beethoven and Chopin in which long-standing errors in scores have become so familiar that the correct readings now sound wrong. He further argues that because each new style of music creates its own meaning, methods of musical analysis must constantly change, and by way of example he shows how Beethoven's music, which often perplexed his contemporaries, gave rise to a type of analysis not suited to the works of later composers. Rosen's cogent examination of motivic development in Beethoven and Schubert and his observations on the musical structure in several of Schubert's vocal works prove that lucid analysis can deepen our understanding of music. For the most part, however, his elusive arguments will be of primary interest to the cognoscente. (July)
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