The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen
It is hard to characterize generations, in part because it is not clear when they begin and end. But the history of music provides some examples of unusually neat plotting. Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti were, for example, all born in the same year, 1685. And, about four generations later, the year 1810 saw the births of both Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin, followed a year later by Franz Liszt. By 1830, just after Beethoven and Schubert died, these three composers had begun the next stage in the making of what is still the standard repertory of piano music. They are at the heart of The Romantic Generation, and they provide chronological clarity to the title. As for that overused and often misused adjective “Romantic,” defining it is one of the achievements of this learned and intelligent book.
Charles Rosen is a professor of music and social thought at the University of Chicago. He is also a pianist who has performed and recorded a remarkable range of works. His first book, The Classical Style (1971), was about an even greater trio of composers—Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. (It occurs to me that there is no classical generation, perhaps because the lives of the classical composers did not coincide in time.) That book and its sequel, Sonata Forms (1980), are among the most quoted studies in the literature, and in them Rosen had already begun to characterize the Romantic.
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