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Rosenfeld, Paul


ROSENFELD, PAUL (1890–1946), U.S. author and critic. A New Yorker, Rosenfeld was born into a prosperous family originating in Germany. He studied at Yale and Columbia, worked briefly as a reporter, and turned to writing. He became a critic and editor specializing in literature, art, and above all music and co-editing the magazine Seven Arts (1916–17). He was among the first to recognize the talents of Ernest *Bloch, Leo *Ornstein, Aaron *Copland, Waldo *Frank and Alfred *Stieglitz.

His first book, Musical Portraits (1920), was followed by Musical Chronicle (1923), Port of New York (1923), Men Seen (1925), and By Way of Art (1928). He embodied the story of his early life in an autobiographical novel, The Boy in the Sun (1928). From 1920 to 1927, he was musical critic for the monthly magazine The Dial. In 1927 he joined Alfred Kreymborg and Lewis Mumford in editing The American Caravan – a yearbook of American literature – on which he was active from 1927 to 1935. Rosenfeld regarded criticism in the arts, not as a means of displaying academic erudition, or of instructing the artist, but as a way of arousing in the audience an appropriate emotional empathy and discriminating appreciation. His essays on Waldo Frank and Van Wyck Brooks, both old friends, remain notable for their rigor of judgment, penetrating psychological analysis, and timely prophetic forebodings. Conscious of his own Jewish attachments, Rosenfeld was one of the earliest writers to react to the threat of Nazism. Though sometimes identified as a member of the Stieglitz circle, Rosenfeld was in fact, both as critic and patron, the center of a wide circle of his own, a group of varied talents. Although his last twelve years were undermined by the economic depression, the rise of Hitlerism, and World War ii, some of his best work was done during this period, notably, Discoveries of a Music Critic (1936). Among the editors and critics of his day, it would be hard to pick out another figure who so consistently and selflessly found his own self-expression through serving his fellow writers and artists.


J. Mellquist and L. Wiese (eds.), Paul Rosenfeld, Voyager in the Arts (1948); S.J. Kunitz (ed.), Twentieth Century Authors, first suppl. (1955), s.v.; Current Biography Yearbook 1946 (1947), 520–1; New York Times (July 22, 1946), 21.

[Lewis Mumford]

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