Monday, October 25, 2010

Charles Rosen, victim of careless program notes

Generally, I think the discussion of applause at concerts is a horse that should go ahead and die, but the situation at Saturday's concert was so weird, I want to elaborate on a point I made at the end of my review, which appears in today's Times-Dispatch.

Here's a blow-by-blow:
-Charles Rosen takes the stage to applause.
-He performs R. Schumann's Intermezzo from "Faschingsschwank aus Wien."
-Silence. More silence.
-Rosen fidgets, takes something from his left breast pocket (glasses? but he's not using music), fiddles with it, takes something from his right pocket, puts both things back into the right pocket.
-He plays the opening chord of Schumann's "Fantasia in C," stops, grunts, fidgets and begins again.
-After the second movement of the Fantasia, a quarter to a third of the audience bursts into applause that lasts several seconds until people realize by Rosen's body language that he's not done.
-Rosen finishes "Fantasia," everyone applauds. Two rounds of bows, then intermission.

The absence of applause after the first piece was not because the audience didn't like the performance. I'll lay double my life savings on that.

Even though the program listing showed the Intermezzo, the program notes didn't mention it, diving instead straight into the middle of a discussion of the differences between the first published, revised version of the Fantasia and Schumann's original version. Dutiful note readers saw the titles of the 3 movements that Schumann originally gave the work (but no movements were noted in the program listing) and must have gotten confused about what was what. They counted three chunks of music, then clapped.

I'm still thinking about why I and other people who knew that the Intermezzo had ended didn't applaud. I guess I'm not used to being the first person to start clapping--I kind of like waiting a breath-length first--and then the longer the silence went on, the harder it became for anyone to be the first to clap. I started thinking that maybe other people knew something I didn't, like he was going to add the last movement of the Faschingsschwank.

In any case, the second half of the program probably erased the awkwardness of the first in the minds of most people. I'm just hung up on the program note thing, maybe because it's so fixable.


  1. Well, at least the audience read the program notes. That's a plus.

  2. I appreciated your review in the T-D. The program notes were indeed atrocious, but given Rosen's scholarly status, I assume that he wrote them and thus only victimized himself.

    I was one of the listeners "expecting a musically dramatic display of emotion." While the contrast between Schumann the romantic and Heine the ironist certainly presents a bit of an interpretive quandary, Rosen just seemed to be calling it in in terms of effort. If I was uncharitable I'd say he was coasting on his reputation. Stylistically speaking, I'd certainly never have guessed that he was a student of a student of Liszt.

    So unfortunately I can't say that "ich grolle nicht." (Maybe we in Richmond have just become spoiled pianistically by the likes of Alexander Paley.)

  3. Matthew, thanks for your comments. I trust that Rosen the scholar and performer has a lifetime of consideration behind his current interpretations of Schumann. And of course those Romantics didn't spent all their time standing on rocky promontories, tossing their hair about.

    I too prefer the more obviously emotional performances, but just as much, I like having my eyes and ears opened to a variety of readings. Rosen's made me feel quiet and open.

    Technically speaking, I think he's simply not as limber as a younger person might be. His performing career is in its twilight, but I don't think he's coasting. (I tend away from cynicism; maybe I'm too romantic.)