Monday, December 10, 2012

Charles Rosen Deserved Better

Like many, I was saddened to learn of the death of Charles Rosen, whom I would cite from time to time in my articles. However, I was even sadder to discover that he was given such an ill-informed obituary by The New York Times. My guess is that Margalit Fox was cobbling together stuff from a variety of sources without giving very much thought to what that stuff said. For those who take their music seriously, the real howler came in the following sentence:
A conversation with him [Rosen], associates have said, typically ranged over a series of enthusiasms that besides music could include philosophy; art history; architecture; travel (Mr. Rosen had homes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and in Paris, where he had first lived as a Fulbright fellow in the early 1950s); European literature, usually read in the original (he had a Ph.D. in French from Princeton); poetry (he held the Charles Eliot Norton professorship of poetry, an annual lectureship at Harvard, from 1980 to 1981); food (he was an accomplished cook); wine and the glassware it was served in; cognac and the wooden casks it was aged in; and the television shows “Absolutely Fabulous,” “Taxi” and “Cheers.”
Those who know a thing or two about major intellectual honors probably know that the Norton position is a Chair in Poetics, and I suspect that Rosen would have been the first to bristle at the proposition that poetics is synonymous with poetry. The Norton Chair has been an honor for quite a few major twentieth century composers, including Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Paul Hindemith, Leonard Bernstein, and (yes!) John Cage. Once again, the Times has made a public spectacle of how far it has fallen from its days of quality reporting.

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