Is there a moment in history when a work receives its ideal
interpretation? Or is negotiation always required to preserve the
past and accommodate the present? The freedom of interpretation,
Charles Rosen suggests in these sparkling explorations of music and
literature, exists in a delicate balance with fidelity to the
identity of the original work.
Rosen cautions us to avoid doctrinaire extremes when approaching
art of the past. To understand Shakespeare only as an Elizabethan
or Jacobean theatergoer would understand him, or to modernize his
plays with no sense of what they bring from his age, deforms the
work, making it less ambiguous and inherently less interesting. For
a work to remain alive, it must change character over time while
preserving a valid witness to its earliest state. When
twentieth-century scholars transformed Mozart's bland, idealized
nineteenth-century image into that of a modern revolutionary
expressionist, they paradoxically restored the reputation he had
among his eighteenth-century contemporaries. Mozart became once
again a complex innovator, challenging to perform and to
Drawing on a variety of critical methods, Rosen maintains that
listening or reading with intensity-for pleasure-is the one
activity indispensable for full appreciation. It allows us to
experience multiple possibilities in literature and music, and to
avoid recognizing only the revolutionary elements of artistic
production. By reviving the sense that works of art have intrinsic
merits that bring pleasure, we justify their continuing
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