Cover image for Piano notes : the world of the pianist
Piano notes : the world of the pianist
Rosen, Charles, 1927-2012.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 246 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Body and mind -- Listening to the sound of the piano -- The instrument and its discontents -- Conservatories and contests -- Concerts -- Recording -- Styles and manners.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
ML700 .R77 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Charles Rosen is one of the world's most talented pianists -- and one of music's most astute commentators. Known as a performer of Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Elliott Carter, he has also written highly acclaimed criticism for sophisticated students and professionals.

In "Piano Notes," he writes for a broader audience about an old friend -- the piano itself. Drawing upon a lifetime of wisdom and the accumulated lore of many great performers of the past, Rosen shows why the instrument demands such a stark combination of mental and physical prowess. Readers will gather many little-known insights -- from how pianists vary their posture, to how splicings and microphone placements can ruin recordings, to how the history of composition was dominated by the piano for two centuries. Stories of many great musicians abound. Rosen reveals Nadia Boulanger's favorite way to avoid commenting on the performances of her friends ("You know what I think," spoken with utmost earnestness), why Glenn Gould's recordings suffer from "double-strike" touches, and how even Vladimir Horowitz became enamored of splicing multiple performances into a sing

Author Notes

Charles Rosen is an internationally respected pianist. A pupil of Moriz Rosenthal, he has performed and recorded a wide repertoire from Bach to Pierre Boulez.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

From a professional's point of view, pianist Rosen carefully links the physical act of playing and the aesthetics of the music it produces, with movements of the fingers, arms, feet, and torso that introduce dance and gesture into the interpretation of music. He comments on the role of technique, which becomes routine and sublimated to how a score is interpreted; a hall's acoustics, audience interruptions, and the particular instrument played all affect a performance, but the technique is truly unconscious. Competitions and contests tend to breed standard performances thought to please judges, he says, while private concerts lead to experimentation, and public concertizing produces consistent performances. In recordings, a pianist tends to strive instead for perfection because a record freezes a performance. Finally, Rosen comments on the styles and manners of performers he has witnessed. He truly sheds light on all aspects of piano performance, and piano-music lovers and players alike will benefit from his thought-provoking and appreciation-enhancing comments. --Alan Hirsch

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Music is not just sound or even significant sound.... There has to be a genuine love simply of the mechanics and difficulties of playing, a physical need for the contact with the keyboard," writes Rosen, a concert pianist, music critic and National Book Award winner (for 1970's The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven). He explores those mechanics, difficulties and more in this thoughtful and wide-reaching blend of history, homage and memoir. In a slightly uptight but obviously learned manner, the author explains the various elements that the piano-playing experience entails, from a child's understanding of the fingering for a C major scale to an accomplished concert pianist's position on her stool. Rosen is mainly concerned with the physicalities of playing the instrument, and he takes readers from concert halls, discussing the order of pieces to be performed lest a pianist follow a work in E-flat major by one in D major to the recording studio, examining the facility with which one can splice piano music. Although nearly all of Rosen's examples are from the music of Bach, Debussy, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and other classical musicians which may alienate readers who play jazz or popular piano his musings are indeed modern; he ponders what will become of the "dinosaur"-like piano in the 22nd century and addresses the problems of performing in a country where piano concerts are only de rigueur in large cities. Filled with trivia and thought-provoking commentary, Rosen's book is a sometimes dense, but important, study of the physical factors involved in tickling the ivories. (Nov. 6) Forecast: Piano tuners, teachers and budding and professional concert pianists are the most appropriate audience for this, and they'll recognize Rosen's name. The book is most likely too serious for some casual piano players. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Prelude This is a book about the experience of playing the piano. It is not an autobiography, although I have had to draw on some personal anecdotes, but it concerns the experience of playing relevant to all pianists, amateur as well as professional. What has interested me most of all is the relation of the physical act of playing to those aspects of music generally considered more intellectual, spiritual, and emotional, the different ways that body and spirit interact. I have concentrated mostly on professional experience since I know it best, and also because the amateur ideal today is largely derived from the professional standard, but I write for listeners as well as pianists. I have certainly not attempted to tell pianists how they must play. Although my own prejudices have naturally intruded, I have at least tried to keep them under control. There are many valid approaches to the instrument and to its repertoire - and if I occasionally find some approaches invalid, I am not stiff-necked about them, and not wedded permanently to my opinions. I have been most intent on conveying the variety of experience of playing, its torments and its delights. The temptation is great to write inspirational prose in the grand style about an experience as intense as playing is for any committed pianist. I am embarrassed when I read that kind of prose, however, as the intensity of feeling is only made factitious by being diluted with words, so I have largely preferred to let that intensity be taken for granted. I adore the grand style and I am intrigued by grand synthetic theories, but I am suspicious of teachers who claim to have invented the only successful method for bringing out the best in young performers, of theorists who claim to have invented the unique approach to analysis, and of historians who wish to reduce all the developments of the musical style of the past entirely to the determinism of social conditions. Of course, the place of music in society influences the way we listen and play, but there are so many cases when a composer or pianist produces work badly fitted to the conditions of his or her own time but that turns out for some few contemporaries and then for a later period to be of great value. I have also attempted to discuss the constraints that cause pianists to play in ways to which they are not really committed, and have ventured to speculate briefly on the decisive role the instrument has played in both the history of composition and the reception of music today. Above all, I have tried to become more aware myself of the powerful and peculiar motives that drive some of us to the piano instead of to the violin, the guitar, or the record-player, and of the odd difficulties that this decision creates in our lives. Excerpted from Piano Notes by Charles Rosen Copyright © 2002 by Charles Rosen Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preludep. ix
Chapter 1 Body and Mindp. 1
Chapter 2 Listening to the Sound of the Pianop. 33
Chapter 3 The Instrument and Its Discontentsp. 63
Chapter 4 Conservatories and Contestsp. 89
Chapter 5 Concertsp. 117
Chapter 6 Recordingp. 143
Chapter 7 Styles and Mannersp. 175
Postludep. 229
Acknowledgmentsp. 237
Indexp. 239