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The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (1971)

by Charles Rosen

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573431,155 (4.44)14
In this new edition of a work first published in 1973, the pianist Charles Rosen sets out to answer the question of what actually constitutes the manner, the way of composing, that links Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The text is accompanied by a CD.
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The issue of why Mozart is a stranger in our messed-up, impatient, overstimulated world, and why we need to approach him on different (musical) terms than the armour-plated ones we use to navigate our daily lives today if we are to appreciate what makes him so special. For me, the works which garner most unanimous appreciation have perhaps been the tougher, more dramatic ones: Beethoven 5 over Beethoven 4 or 6; Brahms 4 over Brahms 2 or 3; Verdi Requiem over Don Carlos, Othello or Falstaff; Stravinsky Rite of Spring over Petrouchka, Agon or Symphony in C; Mahler 2 over Das Lied Von Der Erde or Kindertotenlieder. This muscular power we seem as a society to tend to prioritise is not Mozart's way. All of those works, whilst supreme masterpieces, deal with extremes above all. Nothing in Mahler 2 or The Rite of Spring is moderate. We are a society of extremes, too. Pieces which operate at a more human scale can be lost in this. But Mozart always operates at this scale, even in his mightiest works. Mozart is not a composer of extremes. He is a composer of the middle. His music, like most Enlightenment music, but more so simply by dint of its extraordinary quality, traverses those subtle, intimate regions where small shades of meaning can mean so much, like furtive glances across a room. The reason we love his operas is because they are so full of complex humanity; the reason we particularly love his wind music so much, and also his piano concerti, is because they replicate this vocal dialogue in an instrumental form. The patient unfolding of, say, the Oboe Quartet - in which everything happens twice, question-answer, unfolding gracefully, calmly, every part seeming to listen to every other, to support, discuss, move forwards, but always constructively, with every small detail mattering, as do small details in civilised speech - is one example of countless others in which Mozart does this. To appreciate Mozart we need the patience to follow its logical, balanced unfolding and the concentration to follow the rhetorical inflections and subtleties of its melodic and harmonic details.

We are very fortunate that the genres the two greatest composers of the classical period - Haydn & Mozart - excel in are exactly complementary. While Haydn excels in the symphony, string quartets, piano sonatas & religious music, Mozart's greatest achievements are the operas & piano concertos.

To avoid the obvious, I'd recommend the following groups of works:

Divertimento K563, Piano Trio K564, Piano Concerto K595, String Quartet K590 - During this period Mozart wrote in a particular simplicity & transparency of style, with a distinctive directness & delicacy of expression and melodic shaping. What exactly binds these pieces together, besides the main subject in the finale of K563 & 595 being very similar, is hard to define. Sonata for 2 Pianos K448, Piano Sonata K330, Sonata for Piano Duet K521 - Likewise the first subject in the finale of K330 & K521 are very similar, but more than that these pieces show Mozart at his best using common material & the commonplace keys of C major & D major and producing some of his most memorable works. ( )
  antao | Sep 25, 2020 |
I enjoyed this book, although I seem to recall it being a bit dry. ( )
  herebedragons | Feb 3, 2007 |
In this new edition of a work first published in 1973, the pianist Charles Rosen sets out to answer the question of what actually constitutes the manner, the way of composing, that links Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The text is accompanied by a CD.
1 vote antimuzak | Nov 20, 2005 |
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In this new edition of a work first published in 1973, the pianist Charles Rosen sets out to answer the question of what actually constitutes the manner, the way of composing, that links Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The text is accompanied by a CD.

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393006530, 0393317129

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