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Arnold Rosner
1945 - 2013
United States of America, NY
A. Rosner
Arnold Rosner (08/11/1945 - 08/11/2013), an American composer of classical music, born in New York City, died in Brooklyn. Rosner got his training at State University of New York at Buffalo, New York; according to his own account he learned nothing there. Rosner developed an individual style that fused elements of Renaissance music with the heightened drama and rich sonorities of late romanticism. He composed three operas, eight symphonies, six string quartets, chamber music and songs. Many of his compositions were influenced by his Jewish background, but also by Catholicism.
During his fifty-year compositional career, the American composer Arnold Rosner (1945–2013) produced a body of work that combined diverse influences into a powerful and distinctly personal musical voice. His catalogue comprises compositions in nearly every genre, including three operas, eight symphonies, numerous works for orchestra and wind band, several large-scale choral works and many chamber, solo and vocal pieces.
Rosner’s musical language was founded upon the harmonic and rhythmic devices of the polyphonic music of the Renaissance and early Baroque. These roots can be found, to a larger or smaller degree, in virtually all his music. To them he added a free triadicism and exotic modalities, intensified in some works by more contemporary harmonic dissonance, enriching this language with the lavish orchestration and emotional drama of turn-of the-century late Romanticism – and yet, despite its fusion of seemingly incongruous elements, most of his music is readily accessible, even to untutored listeners. What makes Rosner’s music worthy of serious consideration, rather than being merely an integration of earlier styles, is the way he shaped his unusual language to encompass an enormous expressive range – far broader than one might imagine possible – from serene beauty to violent rage. The Requiem, one of his largest and most ambitious works, embraces this gamut of emotional expression.
Born in New York City in 1945, Rosner took piano lessons as a boy and soon developed a voracious interest in classical music. Some sounds in particular appealed to him – juxtapositions of major and minor triads, as well as modal melodies – and before long he was working these sounds into music of his own. His family, fully aware of the remote prospects of success offered by a career in the composition of classical music, encouraged him to pursue more practical endeavours, and so he attended the Bronx High School of Science, whence he graduated at the age of fifteen, and then New York University, with a major in mathematics. But all the while he was composing: sonatas, symphonies, concertos and more – not that anyone was especially interested in hearing the fruits of his labours. His composer-heroes at the time were Hovhaness, Vaughan Williams and Nielsen, and their influence is evident in much of his early work.
Graduating from NYU before he turned twenty, Rosner then spent a year at the Belfer Graduate School of Science, continuing his studies in mathematics. But, no longer able to resist the inner drive to pursue musical composition as his primary activity, he entered the University of Buffalo the following September, with a major in music composition. He took this step in 1966, when serialism was the dominant style in university music departments, and young composers were often coerced, directly or indirectly, into adopting it. Rosner often recounted how the Buffalo faculty dismissed his creative efforts with varying degrees of contempt. Later, in describing his educational experience there, he would say that he ‘learned almost nothing’ from these pedants. Although most of his peers capitulated to the pressure to embrace the style du jour, Rosner was adamantly opposed to serialism and stubbornly refused to accept a view of music that violated his most fervently held artistic values – and so, in response, his department repeatedly rejected the large orchestral work he had submitted as his dissertation. Realising that they would never accept the kind of music he considered meaningful, he gave up the notion of a doctorate in composition, and decided instead to pursue a degree in music theory, with a dissertation – the first ever – on the music of Alan Hovhaness. He completed this task successfully, and in the process became the first recipient of a doctorate in music granted by the State University of New York. He devoted the rest of his life to writing the music that represented his personal aesthetic ideals, supporting himself through academic positions at colleges in and around the New York City area. His most enduring position was as Professor of Music at Kingsborough Community College (of the City University of New York), which he held for thirty years, until his death. During the course of his compositional career, his musical language gradually expanded from its idiosyncratic and intuitive beginnings.
Author:Walter Simmons
Source:Booklet of CD TOCC0545
Composed in:1973
Musical form:free
Text/libretto:spiritual and secular texts on death from a number of the world’s cultures, including Whitman, Villon, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a sutra from Zen Buddhism and the Jewish Kaddish.
Label(s):Toccata Classics TOCC0545
Requiem, Op. 59 (1973) contains:
I Overture: The Seventh Seal
II Recitative: Ein Wort, ein Satz
III Toccata: Musica Satanica
IV Ballade: Les Neiges d’antan
V Sutra: Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo
VI Madrigal: To All, to Each
VII Organum: Lasciate ogni speranze
VIII Prayer: Kaddish
IX Passacaglia: Libera Me
X und wieder Dunkel, ungeheuer
Contributor:Arye Kendi
The Requiem, completed when the composer was 28, illustrates just how broadly his language had expanded, even by this early age. Arnold Rosner died in Brooklyn, in 2013, on his 68th birthday.
Rosner’s Requiem came about through a set of unusual circumstances. The composer had long been an admirer of the films of the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and he had often cited The Seventh Seal (1957) as his favourite. The film takes place during the fourteenth century and involves a knight who, having returned from the Crusades, is confounded by the moral contradictions of religion. He decides to challenge Death to a game of chess, in the hope of defeating this adversary of life. The story draws upon many features of especial interest to Rosner: from his own religious and spiritual uncertainties and ambivalence to his love of games like chess, and even his fascination with numerological symbolism.
Sometime in 1971 Rosner became consumed by the idea of adapting Bergman’s film into an opera. He wrote to the director to request permission for this adaptation but received no response to his inquiries. Eager to proceed with this project, he began composing anyway. Later that year he decided to travel to Europe for the first time, mostly to meet some of the European composers whose music he admired; but he also intended to try to pressure Bergman for a response to his idea. He finally managed to reach him by phone and posed his request once again. Bergman responded that he had never allowed any of his films to be adapted into any other medium, and was not about to make an exception.
This response was extremely disappointing to Rosner, who had by then written a substantial bit of music for the opera he had in mind. But after several months he arrived at another idea: a full-length Requiem. What he had in mind was one that was nonsectarian, drawing upon biblical texts, secular poetry by French, German and American writers, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Jewish liturgy, among other sources. He also imagined how he could repurpose the music he had written for the aborted adaptation of The Seventh Seal. He completed the Requiem in 1973.
Author:Walter Simmons
Source:Booklet of CD TOCC0545
Far from being a treatment of the usual Latin, the Requiem of the New York-based Arnold Rosner (1945–2013) sets spiritual and secular texts on death from a number of the world’s cultures, including Whitman, Villon, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a sutra from Zen Buddhism and the Jewish Kaddish. The work of a young man (Rosner was 28 when he wrote it), this Requiem is both monumental and wildly energetic – but it also encompasses passages of transcendent beauty. His musical language clothes the modal harmony and rhythm of pre-Baroque polyphony in rich Romantic colours, producing a style that is instantly recognisable and immediately appealing. Some of the music was first written for an aborted operatic treatment of Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal, where the main character plays chess with Death; in like spirit, Rosner’s Requiem is a major statement of human defiance in the face of mortality, even if its gentle closing pages bring uneasy acceptance.