Charles Rosen, an internationally acclaimed pianist and a distinguished scholar and author in music history and analysis, died Dec. 9 in New York. Rosen, professor emeritus in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought and Music, was 85.
He was the author of numerous books in musicology, including The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, which won the National Book Award in 1972. The book is now translated into six languages and is considered essential reading for music students at universities and colleges throughout the United States.
He joined the UChicago faculty in 1985 and taught one quarter each academic year. He retired in April 1996, at which time he gave a farewell concert.
Anne Walters Robertson, the Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor in Music History and former chair of Music, called him “one of the greatest living concert pianists.”
“His playing has links to the late-19th-century Romantic tradition that one does not always find in younger pianists,” she added.
Throughout his academic career, Rosen was known for his scholarship in music. The New York Times called his 1995 book, The Romantic Generation, “That rarity: a work of detailed musical analysis that combines profound scholarship with artistic intuition.” The book, which stemmed from a series of lectures Rosen gave at Harvard University, traces the history of music from Beethoven’s death in 1827 to Chopin’s death in 1849. He also wrote The Sonata Forms (1970), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
”What we appreciate most about Charles,” said Robertson at the time of his retirement, “is that his whole approach to music is that of an extremely accomplished performer. His strong scholarly skills and insights well up out of his musicianship.”
Rosen began studying music at the age of 4, and he was enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music at 6. At 11, he began studying with Moritz Rosenthal, who was a pupil of Franz Liszt.
Rosen received his PhD in French literature from Princeton University in 1951, the same year he made his critically acclaimed New York debut. As a result of that success, he chose a career in music.
In addition to performing extensive concert tours throughout the world, he recorded for such labels as Sony and Nonesuch. Some of the most distinguished 20th-century composers called upon Rosen to record their works: Igor Stravinsky invited him to record “Movement for Piano and Orchestra,” and Elliott Carter invited him to record “Double Concerto.”
Among his most highly acclaimed recordings are the three-record sets “The Last Keyboard Works of Johann Sebastian Bach” and “The Last Six Beethoven Sonatas.” He received a Grammy Award nomination for his recording of Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations.”
He was a member of the American Philosophical Society. Among the awards and honors he has received is the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to American Music from the Johns Hopkins University.