Music and Sentiment Charles Rosen

Publication date:
14 Oct 2011
Yale University Press
160 pages: 216 x 140 x 16mm
Music examples throughout


How does a work of music stir the senses, creating feelings of joy, sadness, elation, or nostalgia? Though sentiment and emotion play a vital role in the composition, performance, and appreciation of music, rarely have these elements been fully observed. In this succinct and penetrating book, Charles Rosen draws upon more than a half century as a performer and critic to reveal how composers from Bach to Berg have used sound to represent and communicate emotion in mystifyingly beautiful ways.

Through a range of musical examples, Rosen details the array of stylistic devices and techniques used to represent or convey sentiment. This is not, however, a listener's guide to any 'correct' response to a particular piece. Instead, Rosen provides the tools and terms with which to appreciate this central aspect of musical aesthetics, and indeed explores the phenomenon of contradictory sentiments embodied in a single motif or melody. Taking examples from Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, and Liszt, he traces the use of radically changing intensities in the Romantic works of the nineteenth century and devotes an entire chapter to the key of C minor. He identifies a 'unity of sentiment' in Baroque music and goes on to contrast it with the 'obsessive sentiments' of later composers including Puccini, Strauss, and Stravinsky.

A profound and moving work, Music and Sentiment is an invitation to a greater appreciation of the crafts of composition and performance.

Charles Rosen is a writer and pianist of international standing. He frequently reviews The New York Review of Books and his published volumes include The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven; The Romantic Generation; Sonata Forms; Romantic Poets, Critics and Other Madmen; Critical Entertainments; Beethoven's Piano Sonatas (Yale, 2002); and Piano Notes. As a pianist, he has performed and recorded a wide repertoire from Bach to Pierre Boulez, and has been invited by Stravinsky, Boulez and Elliott Carter to record and give first performances of their works. Among his best-known recordings are the last six sonatas and the Diabelli Variations of Beethoven.

"What is astonishing, given the rigour of the analysis and the apparent technicality of the approach, is how moving the book is." -Simon Callow, The Guardian

"These lectures, bristling with musical examples and detailed analysis, tackle the tricky question of how music expresses emotion." -Adam Lively, The Sunday Times

"The number of composers about whom he has illuminating things to say, even if only in passing, is remarkable." -Michael Tanner, Literary Review

"Rosen continuously reveals and explains the fantastic, largely unglimpsed, subtlety of music's expressive vocabulary... This book could be a revelation even to the musically illiterate." -Jeremy Siepmann, BBC Music Magazine

"This book is definitely worth reading, and taking to heart." -Brian Morton, The Tablet

"Rosen offers a compelling examination of the 'power' that the great composers have exerted on our sensibilities." -New Statesman

"It’s striking that one of the most genially authoritative English-language polymaths should be primarily a writer on music, just about our best, indeed."—Paul Driver, Musical Times

Watch the related video


Charles Rosen talks about Arnold Schoenberg and the assumption of non-emotion on the composer's music.