Charles Rosen (1927-2012)

Pianist and author of ‘The Classical Style’ dies, aged 85

Charles Rosen
Published: December 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Charles Rosen, the acclaimed pianist and author of books including Sonata Forms and The Classical Style, has died in Manhattan at the age of 85.


Rosen attended the Juilliard School in New York from the age of seven and began learning with Moriz Rosenthal, a pupil of Liszt, when he was just 11. It was Rosenthal who encouraged Rosen to learn a wide range of repertoire, rather than focusing on a small number of works.

Despite this early musical start, Rosen went on to study French at Princeton University, New Jersey. It was only after gaining a BA in 1947 and a PhD in 1951 that he made his first recording: a disc of Martinů.

He went on to make the first complete recording of Debussy’s Etudes as well as discs of Bach’s Art of Fugue, the Goldberg Variations and some of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.

His writing career was sparked by reading the programme notes for his recording of Chopin Nocturnes, which described one of the pieces as ‘staggering drunken with the odor of flowers.’ In an interview with The Guardian he said ‘I had many thoughts about the piece. That was not one of them. So I started writing the sleeve notes myself. People liked them, and after while a publisher took me to lunch.’

Rosen’s first book, The Classical Style, focuses on the music of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and won the National Book Award for arts and letters in 1972. His second book was Sonata Forms, published in 1980 and he also wrote regularly for the New York Review of Books.


He said of his writing: ‘Everyone needs a hobby. Some pianists collect Oriental vases. I write books.’

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