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Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist Paperback – February 3, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
"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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Rosen's earlier works, "Sonata Forms," "The Classical Style," and "The Romantic Generation," have all entered the canon of works that are absolutely essential for the well-informed musician and critic. "Piano Notes" takes a lighter approach: it is part memoir, part anecdote, always highly opinionated, with some choice gossip thrown in. Often, his tongue is firmly planted in cheek. In other words, it's great reading.
In relatively few well-chosen words, Rosen offers his considered opinions on topics as diverse as Bach performance, piano tuning and regulation, shenanigans in the recording studio, piano conservatories and competitions, the uses and misuses of concerts and recitals, and the best method of piano practicing for pure technique--reading while practicing, but scrupulously avoiding poetry and "really admirable prose" because these interfere with the rhythm of the music. "The most useful, I have found for myself, are detective stories, sociology and literary criticism. However, any reading matter that distracts the mind without engaging the senses or the emotions too powerfully will work." (p. 40).
Rosen believes the traditional piano recital, complete with grand piano, darkened hall, and the costumed pianist as high priest, is on the way out, largely because of the relative ease of acquiring fine recorded performances of most of the repertoire. I for one hope he's wrong. There is something marvelous, as Rosen points out, in caressing those ivory and ebony keys, and having music come out. The person who has never experienced that will never understand the blissful expression on the faces of so many pianists when they can share music with others. But those of us lucky enough to have felt music flow from our fingers and to have placed themselves and others under its thrall, will completely understand when Rosen when rhapsodizes of the pianist's fetishistic need for physical contact with the ebony and ivory, and of the inexpressible beauty that results.
An update end of year 2012: My most recent copy of the New York Review of Books, where Rosen published an amazing number of pithy, often controversial but always interesting essays, discloses that he passed away the in the latter part of this year. Rosen's passing is a loss to be mourned by every person who found herself enthralled by his superb writing or his equally magisterial piano performances. I will certainly miss the Maestro, and will regret not being able to look forward to his next tome. I've tried to collect them all. RIP, dear Charles Rosen; we are so much the poorer for your passing.
Regardless of one's level of experience on the piano, this book is an excellent read from a man who knows what he is talking about. It is NOT a book zeroing in on posture or breathing or "don't bang the keys" recitations or 'lectures' but rather a nitty-gritty practical tome that touches on various areas and what life with the keys is all about. The ups and the downs and all in between.
BTW, if books like these appeal to you written by folks who have "been there, done that" albeit well 'verifiably' so as is the case with Mr. Rosen, and as they equally appeal to me when I can locate such informative tomes, and as a classical oriented player making no excuses for literally loving the classical war-horse pieces, check out "Piano Pieces" by Russell Sherman [New England Conservatory]. Another great read!
Also I was delighted to learn the importance of the piano stool, and how its height can affect your performance.
He also tells you about what is essential to survive in the highly competitious classical piano world. I'm not a professional pianist, but I do a lot of creative works (painting, writing, composing), and his points made a great deal of sense.
It's a very imformative book which you will not regret reading.