Charles Rosen

In December 2012 in The New Yorker pianist Jeremy Denk writes a lovely essay in memory of musician-author Charles Rosen (1927-2012). Denk begins:

To visit the pianist and thinker Charles Rosen, you walked down a long corridor lined with bookshelves, past the complete works of famous and obscure writers, past a cabinet containing old French spoons, glassware, strange utensils—true dusty bric-a-brac, the fruits of decades of Parisian browsing. At the end of the corridor was the nerve center: a piano stacked with music, a desk stuffed with papers, a threadbare couch, and a book-covered coffee table. It was desperately unhip. But it was affecting and intense, the accumulation of things, of ideas, and Charles's shuffle. You felt a kind of slow frenzy at his place—connections mounting upon connections, understanding upon understanding. Erosion in reverse.

When I came across the word "discursive" in one of his obituaries, I laughed: Charles was really a spigot of information that could not be shut off by any normal means. My first close encounter was in 2007. It was a dinner that began innocently enough around 7 P.M. Well after midnight, there I was, listening in what I hoped resembled rapt attention while he narrated—for reasons that, even then, I couldn't recall—the plots of several plays by Alan Ayckbourn. My brain had become an achy fuzz. One of the hosts kept trying to get Charles off track by telling filthy Yiddish jokes, which Charles divinely ignored, his expression a mix of pretended confusion and distaste. At some point the other host explained to me that if I wanted to survive, I had to just get up in the middle of a sentence and flee for the hills. This eighty-year-old man was outlasting me. I would sadly have to be rude in order to preserve what was left of my sanity.

And Denk concludes with a splendid metaphor of how science and art work:

The image I have right now is Charles looking over the whole puzzle of culture, all the well-worn, greasy, handled pieces scattered in a million directions, spread over the carpet, unsolvable. He had an unending supply of discoveries and clues and he had faith that if you looked at the pieces properly, their sense and connections would reveal themselves. He would hold up a few pieces at a time, think about them, then go to the next; he was not overwhelmed by the vastness of the puzzle.

^z - 2014-04-23