Friday, February 15, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles preview: Remembering Charles Rosen (1927-2012)

Cézanne's "Pierrot and Harlequin" (1888)

SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9:
2. Pierrot: Moderato (2/4)
3. Arlequin: Vivo (3/4)
2. "Pierrot" (Moderato) is a revolutionary work of pure instrumental music in its use of the grotesque. It is a character piece: relentless, deliberately monotonous, but with sudden jerky movements like the personage of the commedia dell'arte; it makes no pretensions to beauty or charm. The drama arises from the cumulative crescendo towards the end with a final and very original pedal effect, as the penultimate chord gradually frees itself of all the heavy pedal sonority.
3. "Arlequin" (Vivo) is also a grotestque character piece, with sudden changes of dynamics, and with a dancing charm.

Charles Rosen, piano. Nonesuch, recorded in the Netherlands, c1981

by Ken

Charles Rosen, the American pianist and cultural polymath, died on December 9, and it's been on my mind how to pay tribute. It's still on my mind. But meanwhile, as we're rummaging through the Sunday Classics archives, I thought we could at least hear a little bit of his playing and read an even littler bit of his remarkable writing.

This goes back to another project that's stuck in the "on my mind" stage, and has been September's "Preview: Preparing for a close-up look at Schumann's Carnaval" and "Taking a closer look at Schumann's Carnaval" posts. Back then we actually heard the whole of Rosen's later recording of Carnaval, and we're going to hear it again Sunday.

What's new is that in September we first heard some snippets from Schumann's great piano suite with Rosen's brief annotations but with other pianists' performances. For tonight's post I've reedited the clips so we can hear his own performances -- first of the pair of commedia dell'arte caricatures we heard above, "Pierrot" and "Arlequin," and then the characterizations of the composer's own imagined dual identities, "Eusebius" and "Florestan."


"Eusebius" and "Florestan" were Schumann's own characterizations of the two sides of his own personality -- the dreamy introvert and the passionate extrovert, respectively.

SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9:
5. Eusebius: Adagio; Più lento molto teneramente (2/4)
6. Florestan: Passionato (3/4)
5. "Eusebius" (Adagio) is the first half of a double self-portrait. Schumann directs the pianist to play the beginning and end absolutely without pedal; the middle section not only is marked to be played with pedal, but it must swim in pedal in order to sustain the long rolling chords. "Eusebius" is the introverted side of Schumann, and the repressed emotion breaks out freely in the middle only to be pushed back once more.
6. "Florestan" (Passionato) is the passionate extrovert side of Schumann, capricious, moody, and unpredictable. A half-remembered echo of an earlier work keeps breaking in and interrupting the waltz, which finishes -- or, better, cannot finish at all -- in a paroxysm of rage.

["Florestan" at 1:28] Charles Rosen, piano. Nonesuch, recorded in the Netherlands, c1981


As noted we'll hear all of Carnaval, and I'll try to think of something somewhat coherent to say about Charles Rosen.

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