I regularly recommend Charles Rosen's various writings to undergraduates reading music and have often done so to history undergraduates too. They certainly seem to appreciate him, even to the extent that an essay I recently marked furnished a fabricated Rosen citation to confirm a startling thesis of Mozart having time-travelled to crib some of his sacred arias from operas by Donizetti. Books such as The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Sonata Forms and Rosen's pregnant, slim volume on Schoenberg are staples not just of reading lists but, perhaps more importantly, of encounters by that elusive species, the educated general reader, with the fruits of musicology.
Rosen's breadth of interest and sympathy is one factor; another is that he is a writer who can write. This collection of essays, most but not all originating in The New York Review of Books, underlines and furthers appreciation of those and other virtues. Moreover, one is reminded that Rosen is more than a musicologist. Not only is he a pianist, having recorded works from Bach to Boulez, but he also surveys with enthusiastic erudition a number of literary topics.
One might expect a musicologist to be interested in writers with close relationships to music, such as Stephane Mallarme, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and even W. H. Auden, but Rosen's literary interests venture further. Thus we encounter Michel de Montaigne, Jean de La Fontaine, Bettina von Arnim and Robert Burton, whose The Anatomy of Melancholy is a reminder of a time, and not just that of its writing, for 48 editions were published during the 19th century, when "reading a lengthy, serious, and technical book was considered an agreeable and even entertaining way of passing the time". Rosen reminds us that Samuel Taylor Coleridge commented specifically upon its value as entertainment.
Bookishness, in the best sense, rears its head, Rosen evidently admiring Burton's ambition "to present everything that had ever been thought or written...