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2 Beaverton Music- General History

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

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The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century Cover

ISBN13: 9780374249397
ISBN10: 0374249393
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Awards

2007 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Criticism

Review-A-Day

"The problems with this history begin with the title page — with the self-assured title itself, which seems more promotional than informative, and with the subtitle Listening to the Twentieth Century, which grows more shifty the more you think about it. It might mean listening to the characteristic sounds of the twentieth century — the roar of the jet, the song of the cell phone, the ear- and brain-splitting din of carpet bombing — rather than listening to music. Twentieth century music, as Ross has stressed with much vigor, even spleen, is mostly popular, and increasingly international. But a writer whose ambition was 'to talk about classical music as if it were popular music and popular music as if it were classical' talks mostly about Western classical music as if it were classical." Joseph Kerman, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The scandal over modern music has not died down. While paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, shocking musical works from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, the influence of modern music can be felt everywhere. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalist music has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward. Alex Ross, the brilliant music critic for The New Yorker, shines a bright light on this secret world, and shows how it has pervaded every corner of twentieth century life.

The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.

Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, the end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.

Review:

"'Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich's downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives — such as Shostakovich's struggles under the Soviet regime — make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out — in precise but readily accessible language — the notes that link Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"

Review:

"With every page you turn, the story departs further from the old fairy tale of giants bestriding the earth and looks more like the twentieth century we remember, with fallible human beings reacting to, reflecting, and affecting with symbolic sounds a flux of conditions and events created by other fallible human beings. And turn the pages you do. A remarkable achievement." Richard Taruskin, author of the Oxford History of Western Music

Review:

"A rare and successful weaving together of musical and cultural history, at once sweeping and accessible, written felicitously by a seasoned music critic at home in the history of the last century. An enticing and bold invitation to learn something of the great themes of the past century." Fritz Stern, author of Five Germanys I Have Known

Review:

"A must-read for those who have struggled with understanding modern music and a benchmark book that should eventually become a classic history of the 20th century." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"There seems always to have been a 'crisis of modern music,' but by some insane miracle one person finds the way out. The impossibility of it gives me hope. Fast-forwarding through so many music-makers' creative highs and lows in the company of Alex Ross's incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyone's fire for music." Bjork

Book News Annotation:

Ross (music critic for The New Yorker) tells the story of 20th century classical composition, which for him is an "untamed art, and unassimilated underground." While composers from Richard Strauss to John Adams lie at the heart of the narrative, Ross also places them within a social and political world, describing the politicians, dictators, corporate officers, art patrons, intellectuals, and critics who have attempted to adjudicate and control musical expression and the social upheavals that impacted the lives of composers and the music they produced. He also goes beyond the genre confines of classical to discuss connections to such artists as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, the Beatles, and the Velvet Underground. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, takes readers from Vienna before the First World War to New York in the 1970s. The result is not so much a history of 20th-century music as it is a history of the 20th century through its music.

Synopsis:

The scandal over modern music has not died down. While paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, shocking musical works from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, the influence of modern music can be felt everywhere. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalist music has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward. Alex Ross, the brilliant music critic for The New Yorker, shines a bright light on this secret world, and shows how it has pervaded every corner of twentieth century life.
 
The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.
 
Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, the end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.

Synopsis:

The scandal over modern music has not died down. While paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, shocking musical works from Stravinskys Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, the influence of modern music can be felt everywhere. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalist music has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward. Alex Ross, the brilliant music critic for The New Yorker, shines a bright light on this secret world, and shows how it has pervaded every corner of twentieth century life.
 
The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.
 
Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitlers Germany and Stalins Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schamas The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menands The Metaphysical Club, the end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.
Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism, a Holtzbrinck Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, a Fleck Fellowship from the Banff Centre, and a Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for significant contributions to the field of contemporary music.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
A Pulitzer Prize Finalist
One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
A Time Magazine Best Book of the Year
An Economist Book of the Year
A Newsweek Favorite Book of the Year
A New York Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year
A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year

A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction
 
The Rest Is Noise shows the origin and enduring influence of modern sound on twentieth century life. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.
 
Ross takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitlers Germany and Stalins Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. He follows the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schamas The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menands The Metaphysical Club, the end result is a history of the twentieth century through its music.
The Rest Is Noise is a work of immense scope and ambition. The idea is not simply to conduct a survey of 20th-century classical composition but to come up with a history of that century as refracted through its music . . . With its key figures reappearing like motifs in a symphony, The Rest Is Noise is a considerable feat of orchestration and arrangement . . . a great achievement. Rilke once wrote of how he learned to stand ‘more seeingly in front of certain paintings. Ross enables us to listen more hearingly.”—Geoff Dyer, The New York Times
The Rest Is Noise is a work of immense scope and ambition. The idea is not simply to conduct a survey of 20th-century classical composition but to come up with a history of that century as refracted through its music . . . With its key figures reappearing like motifs in a symphony, The Rest Is Noise is a considerable feat of orchestration and arrangement . . . a great achievement. Rilke once wrote of how he learned to stand ‘more seeingly in front of certain paintings. Ross enables us to listen more hearingly.”—Geoff Dyer, The New York Times

“Impressively omnivorous . . . The critic can be a maestro with his turns of phrase.”—James Sullivan, The Boston Globe

"It would be hard to imagine a better guide to the maelstrom of recent music than Mr. Ross, who worked on this book for a decade. He has an almost uncanny gift for putting music into words. No other critic writing in English can so effectively explain why you like a piece, or beguile you to reconsider it, or prompt you to hurry online and buy a recording."—The Economist

"[Ross] states that his subtitle is meant literally: 'this is the twentieth century heard through its music.' He informs the reader that the book is the result of fifteen years of work as a music critic. He also occasionally reiterates the purpose of the book as the text unfolds, as, for example, then he writes that the book illuminates 'the cultural predicament of the composer in the twentieth century.' These interjections make the book an excellent lesson and a wonderful ride . . . Ross divides the twentieth century into three parts . . . He uses the two world wars as major points of demarcation after writing about Vienna (prior to World War I), then Hitler and Stalin, then New York in the 1960s and 1970s, and music in other places thereafter . . . There is a large section of 'Notes' at the end of the book, complete with 'Abbreviations Used' to assist the reader . . . Names of musical organizations, such as the Allgemeiner deutscher Musikverein, are given with their English translations in parentheses to make things easier for the general reader to follow (All-German Music Association). Ross also describes individual compositions in ways that beckon the reader to listen to the musical composition itself—this provides wonderful encouragement to readers who might not otherwise wish to go that far. Furthermore, Ross refers the reader to the most comprehensive biographies on major composers . . . These referrals often occur in sections where Ross discusses a major composers work in depth. Rosss prose is often quite elegant. He enjoys the use of metaphor and, at times, his prose is as enjoyable to listen to as it is to read . . . Ross succeeds in making all of his historical narratives comprehensible to the lay reader as well as to the musician and scholar."—Richard D. Burbank, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Notes

"What powers this amazingly ambitious book and endows it with authority are the author's expansive curiosity and refined openness of mind."—Jamie James, Los Angeles Times

“In his long-awaited first book, The Rest Is Noise, Mr. Ross brings his gift for authoritative enthusiasm to a whole centurys worth of music . . . The result is a massively erudite book that takes care to wear its learning lightly. There are no musical examples in The Rest Is Noise and while Mr. Ross discusses some technical points—the polyrhythms of Stravinsky, the atonality of Schoenberg—it is not necessary to read music to understand his larger themes. Rather than delving deep into a particular composition, like a musicologist, Mr. Ross aims for synthesis, placing each work against the background of its composers life and times. This is music history for readers who know more history than music.”—Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

“A volume sharply different in tone from its predecessors—and truer, in my view, to the history of musical modernism . . . Rosss taste is both wide-ranging and receptive, and he never makes the inverse error of assuming that a piece of music is bad merely because it does not sound like Copland or Sibelius, or because it is inconsistent with some other theory of modernism. Insofar as it is possible to do so, he takes music as it comes, and is open to the possibility that any kind—even the atonal kind—can be good. Needless to say, criticism is judgment first and foremost, and part of what makes The Rest Is Noise compelling is the fact that so many of its critical judgments are convincing. Time and again Ross puts his finger unerringly on the pulse of a composer or a specific work, summing it up with the pithy brevity of a first-class journalist. No less striking is his willingness to engage with musical modernism as a part of the larger world of both culture and politics . . . Far more important, in my view, is his overall recognition of the need for contemporary composers to forge stylistic languages (if not a language) that will be accessible to the common listener. This theme, which permeates the pages of The Rest Is Noise, is first sounded in Rosss discussion of the emergence just prior to World War I of the ‘New Viennese School of hermetic modernists led by Arnold Schoenberg . . . In The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross shows himself to be a surpassingly eloquent advocate for beauty, by any means necessary.”—Terry Teachout, Commentary

"As absorbing as a novel, as researched and erudite as the most academic tome, argued with the force and strength of an incisive essayist and deep thinker."—Daniel Felsenfeld, Symphony

“Over the past decade, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has established himself as one of our most talented practitioners of the art of the feuilleton, the popular journal piece. He thereby carries on a great tradition of musical writers including Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, and George Bernard Shaw. Now, for the first time, Ross has turned his feuilletonists sensibility to a longer form, the book, and hes made a terrific debut on the big stage. The Rest Is Noise aspires to present ‘the 20th century heard through its music. The book is a series of sweeping set pieces, held together by recurring characters and themes—such as the promiscuous adventures of a few notes from Richard Strausss Salome that were nicked by several other composers. Each chapter tells the story of a period or train of thought and centers on the main composers of the time . . . The book tells a compelling, epic, and entirely human story. Its a scholarly work, with a formidable train of endnotes, but it doesnt read that way. Ross is the rare author who knows his stuff technically but can write about it for everybody. He prose is lucid and engaging, and he has a particular gift for conjuring the sound and effect of music. Often, he manages to be analytical and evocative at the same time . . . A splendid success, thorough and well researched, eminently readable, with a sense of storytelling hard to find in books of music history. Seven years into a new century, its time to start toting up the last one, and Alex Ross has proved himself the right person to provide some perspective on this ‘abundant, benighted era. He consistently connects classical music to the life of creators and of cultures, and so conveys as few writers do the human reality of the music. As Charles Ives put it, ‘Music is life.”—Jan Swafford, Wilson Quarterly

"As quickly becomes clear, Ross's ambition in writing this book is neither to be a completist nor a music appreciator.  He aims to make a coherent narrative of the sprawling, violent, confused and confusing hundred years that propelled world history from cozy excesses of the waning Hapsburg Empire to the techno-revolution of California's Silicon Valley, and from Gustav Mahler to Terry Riley. Along the way, he writes extensively about Hitler, Stalin, FDR, John Kennedy, among other political figures. In the tradition of the cultural historian, Ross includes snippets of history, sociology, biography, philosophy, music theory, and literature . . . Ross gives us the story of 20th-century music—and it is nuanced, complex in its conception, and insightfully original. Moving chronologically and dramatically, the tale is not told but rather is shown through dramatic writing and subtle adjacencies of composers, aesthetic movements, political and social history, and discussions of the music. Few critics can evoke music as compellingly as Ross . . . Another of Ross's gifts as a writer is his ability to explicate musical theory for a literate but non-specialist readership. his cogent description of the whole-tone scale, in a discussion of Debussy's music, and his sensibly simple discussion of Stravinsky's turn from neo-classicism to a new kind of serialism are illuminating for any reader . . . the prose is bedizened with references from a rich variety of sources . . . Dramatic, erudite, and culturally expansive, this book makes fresh connections that narrative the story of 20th-century music in an original way. Ross has written an important work that I—and my students—will pick up, for pleasure, again and again."—Johanna Keller, Syracuse University, Chamber Music magazine

"The Rest Is Noise is one of those captivating cultural histories that manages both extensive sweep and engaging specificity, and it should come with a warning to readers that it might persuade them to quit their jobs in favor of sitting around listening to classical music for a year or two. (If you decide to do so, see Rosss recommended recordings at the back of the book.)"—Radhika Jones, Bookforum

"Alex Ross . . . carries on a great tradition of musical writers including Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, and George Bernard Shaw. Now, for the first time, Ross has turned his feuilletonists sensibility to a longer form, the book, and hes made a terrific debut on the big­stage . . . [The Rest Is Noise] tells a compelling, epic, and entirely human story."—Jan Swafford, The Wilson Quarterly

“As Alex Ross, the classical music critic of The New Yorker, writes in his superb narrative history, The Rest Is Noise, 20th-century music ‘still sends ripples of unease through concert audiences . . . When we encounter the works of György Ligeti, Hans Werner Henze, Witold Lutoslawski, or Olivier Messiaen—to name just four giants of 20th-cnetury music—we do not, alas, hear great music. We hear only noise. And we are all the poorer for it. How did it all go so very wrong? Why, over the course of the last century, did composers of classical music veer so sharply away from their audiences? Answering these questions, while illuminating the peculiar predicament of the composer in 20th-century culture, is Rosss project in this magisterial book. One could not hope for a better guide; his knowledge of both music and the historical forces that shaped it is deep and nuanced, and his descriptions of specific musical passages are rich and evocative, always employing the right metaphor or turn of phrase.”—Sundip Bose, The American Scholar

"[The Rest Is Noise] demonstrates that it is impossible to understand the larger historical narrative of the last century—or of any century, for that matter—without its music. In other words, Ross's achievement is all the more astounding because it makes music essential to the understanding of history beyond the history of the music itself. And what could matter more than that?"—Jonathan Rabb, Opera News

"With perpetual grace and excitement, Ross reanimates music buried in history and super-obscure record stores, and allows us to feel just how contemporary it can be."—Kevin Berger, Salon

"This elegant book imparts to the music itself—that airy and elusive vibration—what so many critics cannot: three dimensions."—James Marcus, Newsday

"A narrative that embraces the contradictions that characterize so much about the century just past, both in life and in art."—Steve Hicken, The High Hat

"Perhaps the least combative and doctrinaire of American classical-music critics, The New Yorker's Alex Ross turns out to be a brilliant chronicler of the combative, often stiflingly doctrinaire 20th century."—Gavin Borchert, Seattle Weekly

"In The Rest is Noise . . . [Ross] does not simply catalog major figures and artistic highlights, but presents music as an exciting phenomenon vitally related to broader political and social developments . . . [He] grasps music on a profound, composerlike level . . . "—Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"[Ross's] brave goal is nothing less than to bridge the gap between modern composers and listeners. In this task, he is almost phenomenally successful . . . "—Timothy Mangan, Orange County Register

"Early into The Rest Is Noise, I felt like I was reading a book I had been waiting for all my life."—Juliet Waters, C-Ville

"Sweeping yet compulsively readable . . . Lucid technical descriptions illuminate the densest of pieces without dulling their inherently thorny nature."—Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York

"The best book on what music is about—really about —that you or I will ever own."—Alan Rich, LA Weekly

"Superb narrative history . . . magisterial . . . One could not hope for a better guide; [Ross's] knowledge of both music and the historical forces that shaped it is deep and nuanced . . . "—Sudip Bose, The American Scholar

"Ross, the formidable New Yorker music critic, here takes a new approach to 20th-century music. Instead of putting music in the context of 20th-century history, he uses music as the context for history. Major historical events and composers of masterworks become the featured performers. For example, at the end of his discussion of Schoenberg, the author offers a brilliant comparison of the ends of Alban Berg's Wozzeck and Claude Debussy's Pélleas et Mélisande as representative depictions of orphans of the fin de siccle. Benjamin Britten gets the most sympathetic treatment of all in Ross's analysis of Peter Grimes. This is scholarship at its best—masterful and approachable. Ross provides new photographs and takes advantage of sources previously untapped for such discussions, e.g., Hitler's speeches and Goebbel's diary. This volume joins such classics as Charlie Rosen's The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation. Extensive bibliographic reference notes serve well."—J. P. Ambrose, emerita, University of Vermont, Choice

"There seems always to have been a ‘crisis of modern music, but by some insane miracle one person finds the way out. The impossibility of it gives me hope. Fast-forwarding through so many music-makers creative highs and lows in the company of Alex Rosss incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyones fire for music."—Björk

"Alex Ross has produced an introduction to twentieth-century music that is also an absorbing story of personalities and events that is also a history of modern cultural forms and styles that is also a study of social, political, and technological change. The Rest Is Noise is cultural history the way cultural history should be written: a single strong narrative operating on many levels at once."—Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club

"You don't have to be an aficionado of modern music to love this book: Alex Rosss extraordinary gifts as a writer, his deep knowledge of music, and his fresh forays into cultural history make The Rest is Noise a complete delight."—Jean Strouse, author of Morgan: American Financier

"The Rest Is Noise reads like a sprawling, intense novel, one of utopian dreams, doom, and consolation, with the most extraordinary cast of characters from music and history alike."—Osvaldo Golijov

"In words that are beautiful, passionate, witty, and utterly compelling, Alex Ross has written a true rarity—a book about music that makes you want to run and listen to every note he talks about."—Emanuel Ax
 
"A rare and successful weaving together of musical and cultural history, at once sweeping and accessible, written felicitously by a seasoned music critic at home in the history of the last century. An enticing and bold invitation to learn something of the great themes of the past century."—Fritz Stern, author of Five Germanys I Have Known

“With every page you turn, the story departs further from the old fairy tale of giants bestriding the earth and looks more like the twentieth century we remember, with fallible human beings reacting to, reflecting, and affecting with symbolic sounds a flux of conditions and events created by other fallible human beings. And turn the pages you do."—Richard Taruskin, author of the Oxford History of Western Music

"The music critic for The New Yorker tells the story of the 20th century through its music. Ross explores 'the cultural predicament of the composer,' tracking how the composer's role has changed from its privileged status in fin-de-siecle Europe, where people like Mahler were celebrated like rock stars, to the composer's current status, compromised by the advent of mass communication, the Great Depression, World War II and America's rise as a global superpower. The author is a careful historian aware of the pitfalls of conventional histories about music since 1900. He calls such histories 'teleological tales,' narratives under the shadow of Arnold Schoenberg—the German composer and champion of atonality—that myopically focus on a particular goal of the study of music history and omit that which doesn't fit into the achievement of that goal. Ross cites Jean Sibelius as an example, devoting an entire chapter to the troubled Finnish composer, whose music was acclaimed in his lifetime but has since been marginalized by historians who qualify him as a 'nationalist' composer, implying his music lacks universal resonance. Ironically, Ross notes, Sibelius has influenced contemporary composers perhaps more than Schoenberg. In choosing to eschew the convenience of these streamlined teleological tales, the author is faced with a complicated matrix of styles, ideas and personalities. But this is no plodding history. With his typically lyrical and attentive style, the author presents a lucid, often gripping story of a complex century. A must-read for those who have struggled with understanding modern music and a benchmark book that should eventually become a classic history of the 20th century."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich's downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives—such as Shostakovich's struggles under the Soviet regime—make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out—in precise but readily accessible language—the notes that link Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

About the Author

Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism, a Holtzbrinck Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, a Fleck Fellowship from the Banff Centre, and a Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for significant contributions to the field of contemporary music. The Rest Is Noise is his first book.

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Mitzi, January 18, 2008 (view all comments by Mitzi)
If you are interested in the world of classical music, including those composers not yet dead, then you'll enjoy Mr. Ross' tour de force. Classical music, by the author's definition, did not stop with the death of Beethoven. There are many contemporary/20th Century composers who are creating very listenable music. The problem, according to Ross, is that the very term Classical has frozen the concept in time. This chill has made it difficult if not impossible for contemporary composers to break through into popular consciousness. If you are a fan of mr. Ross' weekly column in the New Yorker, then this is a must read.
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Grady Harp, December 7, 2007 (view all comments by Grady Harp)
A Richly Informative, Engrossing Examination of Twentieth Century Music

Alex Ross has the ability and the resources to write about the music of the 20th Century and to establish himself as the creator of the definitive volume with the publication of THE REST IS NOISE: LISTENING TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. His depth of knowledge is matched only by his ability to communicate with a writing style that places him in the echelon of our finest biographers. This book is indeed a comprehensive study of the music created in the 20th Century, but it is also a survey of all of the arts and social changes, effects of wars, industrialization, and quirks and idiosyncrasies that surfaced in that recently ended period of history: Ross may call this 'listening' to the 20th century, but is also visualizing and feeling the changes of that fascinating period.

Ross opens his survey with a detailed description of the premiere of Richard Strauss' opera SALOME and in doing so he references all of those in attendance (from Mahler to Schoenberg, the last of the great Romantics to the leader of the Modernist innovators) and focuses not only on the chances Strauss took using a libidinous libretto by the infamous Oscar Wilde to the astringent dissonances that surface in this tale of evil and necrophilia. The ballast of that evening is then followed throughout the book, a means of communicating music theory and execution in a manner that is wildly entertaining while simultaneously informative.

Ross studies the influence of nationalism in music (the German School, the French School, the British and the American Schools) and then interweaves the particular innovations by showing how each school and each composer was influenced by the simultaneous destruction and reconstruction of the world borders resulting form the wars of that century. He dwells on the pacifists (Benjamin Britten et al) and those trapped by authoritarian regimes (Shostakovich et al), following the great moments as well as the dissonant chances that found audience at times far from the nidus of origin. Ross crosses the 'pond' showing how American music nurtured in the European schools ultimately found grounding in a sound peculiar to this country (Ives, Copland, etc) and allows enough insight as to the influence of jazz to finally satisfy the most critical of readers.

Ross, then, accompanies us on the journey from melody to atonality and back, all the while giving us insights into the composers that help us understand the changes in music landscape they induced. The book is long and demanding, but at the same time it is one of the finest 'novels on a music theme' ever written. Highly recommended not only to musicologists, ardent music lovers, and students of the arts, but to the reading public who simply loves history enhanced by brilliant prose. Grady Harp
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(24 of 37 readers found this comment helpful)
andreaburnsworth, October 23, 2007 (view all comments by andreaburnsworth)
Strauss, Stravinsky, Korngold and "What about" Schrecker, Wagner, The Beatles, Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, Ligeti, Gershwin, Chuck Berry, Brian Eno, David Bowie, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa and so many more composers all influencing, no, all *richocheting* influences back and forth on each other in an uniquely and delightfully, yet plenty scholarly, Alex Rossian romp through the space-time continuum known as 20th century music.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780374249397
Subtitle:
Listening to the Twentieth Century
Author:
Ross, Alex
Publisher:
Picador
Subject:
Modern - 20th Century
Subject:
History & Criticism - General
Subject:
History & Criticism *
Subject:
Music
Subject:
20th century
Subject:
History and criticism
Subject:
Music -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
Subject:
History
Subject:
Criticism
Subject:
Genres & Styles - Classical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20081014
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
8 Pages of Black-and-White Illustrations
Pages:
720
Dimensions:
9.00 x 6.00 in

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The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century Used Hardcover
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Product details 720 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374249397 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich's downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives — such as Shostakovich's struggles under the Soviet regime — make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out — in precise but readily accessible language — the notes that link Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"Review A Day" by , "The problems with this history begin with the title page — with the self-assured title itself, which seems more promotional than informative, and with the subtitle Listening to the Twentieth Century, which grows more shifty the more you think about it. It might mean listening to the characteristic sounds of the twentieth century — the roar of the jet, the song of the cell phone, the ear- and brain-splitting din of carpet bombing — rather than listening to music. Twentieth century music, as Ross has stressed with much vigor, even spleen, is mostly popular, and increasingly international. But a writer whose ambition was 'to talk about classical music as if it were popular music and popular music as if it were classical' talks mostly about Western classical music as if it were classical." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "With every page you turn, the story departs further from the old fairy tale of giants bestriding the earth and looks more like the twentieth century we remember, with fallible human beings reacting to, reflecting, and affecting with symbolic sounds a flux of conditions and events created by other fallible human beings. And turn the pages you do. A remarkable achievement."
"Review" by , "A rare and successful weaving together of musical and cultural history, at once sweeping and accessible, written felicitously by a seasoned music critic at home in the history of the last century. An enticing and bold invitation to learn something of the great themes of the past century."
"Review" by , "A must-read for those who have struggled with understanding modern music and a benchmark book that should eventually become a classic history of the 20th century."
"Review" by , "There seems always to have been a 'crisis of modern music,' but by some insane miracle one person finds the way out. The impossibility of it gives me hope. Fast-forwarding through so many music-makers' creative highs and lows in the company of Alex Ross's incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyone's fire for music."
"Synopsis" by , Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, takes readers from Vienna before the First World War to New York in the 1970s. The result is not so much a history of 20th-century music as it is a history of the 20th century through its music.
"Synopsis" by ,
The scandal over modern music has not died down. While paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, shocking musical works from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, the influence of modern music can be felt everywhere. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalist music has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward. Alex Ross, the brilliant music critic for The New Yorker, shines a bright light on this secret world, and shows how it has pervaded every corner of twentieth century life.
 
The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.
 
Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, the end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.
"Synopsis" by ,
The scandal over modern music has not died down. While paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, shocking musical works from Stravinskys Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, the influence of modern music can be felt everywhere. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalist music has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward. Alex Ross, the brilliant music critic for The New Yorker, shines a bright light on this secret world, and shows how it has pervaded every corner of twentieth century life.
 
The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.
 
Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitlers Germany and Stalins Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schamas The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menands The Metaphysical Club, the end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.
Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism, a Holtzbrinck Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, a Fleck Fellowship from the Banff Centre, and a Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for significant contributions to the field of contemporary music.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
A Pulitzer Prize Finalist
One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
A Time Magazine Best Book of the Year
An Economist Book of the Year
A Newsweek Favorite Book of the Year
A New York Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year
A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year

A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction
 
The Rest Is Noise shows the origin and enduring influence of modern sound on twentieth century life. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.
 
Ross takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitlers Germany and Stalins Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. He follows the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schamas The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menands The Metaphysical Club, the end result is a history of the twentieth century through its music.
The Rest Is Noise is a work of immense scope and ambition. The idea is not simply to conduct a survey of 20th-century classical composition but to come up with a history of that century as refracted through its music . . . With its key figures reappearing like motifs in a symphony, The Rest Is Noise is a considerable feat of orchestration and arrangement . . . a great achievement. Rilke once wrote of how he learned to stand ‘more seeingly in front of certain paintings. Ross enables us to listen more hearingly.”—Geoff Dyer, The New York Times
The Rest Is Noise is a work of immense scope and ambition. The idea is not simply to conduct a survey of 20th-century classical composition but to come up with a history of that century as refracted through its music . . . With its key figures reappearing like motifs in a symphony, The Rest Is Noise is a considerable feat of orchestration and arrangement . . . a great achievement. Rilke once wrote of how he learned to stand ‘more seeingly in front of certain paintings. Ross enables us to listen more hearingly.”—Geoff Dyer, The New York Times

“Impressively omnivorous . . . The critic can be a maestro with his turns of phrase.”—James Sullivan, The Boston Globe

"It would be hard to imagine a better guide to the maelstrom of recent music than Mr. Ross, who worked on this book for a decade. He has an almost uncanny gift for putting music into words. No other critic writing in English can so effectively explain why you like a piece, or beguile you to reconsider it, or prompt you to hurry online and buy a recording."—The Economist

"[Ross] states that his subtitle is meant literally: 'this is the twentieth century heard through its music.' He informs the reader that the book is the result of fifteen years of work as a music critic. He also occasionally reiterates the purpose of the book as the text unfolds, as, for example, then he writes that the book illuminates 'the cultural predicament of the composer in the twentieth century.' These interjections make the book an excellent lesson and a wonderful ride . . . Ross divides the twentieth century into three parts . . . He uses the two world wars as major points of demarcation after writing about Vienna (prior to World War I), then Hitler and Stalin, then New York in the 1960s and 1970s, and music in other places thereafter . . . There is a large section of 'Notes' at the end of the book, complete with 'Abbreviations Used' to assist the reader . . . Names of musical organizations, such as the Allgemeiner deutscher Musikverein, are given with their English translations in parentheses to make things easier for the general reader to follow (All-German Music Association). Ross also describes individual compositions in ways that beckon the reader to listen to the musical composition itself—this provides wonderful encouragement to readers who might not otherwise wish to go that far. Furthermore, Ross refers the reader to the most comprehensive biographies on major composers . . . These referrals often occur in sections where Ross discusses a major composers work in depth. Rosss prose is often quite elegant. He enjoys the use of metaphor and, at times, his prose is as enjoyable to listen to as it is to read . . . Ross succeeds in making all of his historical narratives comprehensible to the lay reader as well as to the musician and scholar."—Richard D. Burbank, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Notes

"What powers this amazingly ambitious book and endows it with authority are the author's expansive curiosity and refined openness of mind."—Jamie James, Los Angeles Times

“In his long-awaited first book, The Rest Is Noise, Mr. Ross brings his gift for authoritative enthusiasm to a whole centurys worth of music . . . The result is a massively erudite book that takes care to wear its learning lightly. There are no musical examples in The Rest Is Noise and while Mr. Ross discusses some technical points—the polyrhythms of Stravinsky, the atonality of Schoenberg—it is not necessary to read music to understand his larger themes. Rather than delving deep into a particular composition, like a musicologist, Mr. Ross aims for synthesis, placing each work against the background of its composers life and times. This is music history for readers who know more history than music.”—Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

“A volume sharply different in tone from its predecessors—and truer, in my view, to the history of musical modernism . . . Rosss taste is both wide-ranging and receptive, and he never makes the inverse error of assuming that a piece of music is bad merely because it does not sound like Copland or Sibelius, or because it is inconsistent with some other theory of modernism. Insofar as it is possible to do so, he takes music as it comes, and is open to the possibility that any kind—even the atonal kind—can be good. Needless to say, criticism is judgment first and foremost, and part of what makes The Rest Is Noise compelling is the fact that so many of its critical judgments are convincing. Time and again Ross puts his finger unerringly on the pulse of a composer or a specific work, summing it up with the pithy brevity of a first-class journalist. No less striking is his willingness to engage with musical modernism as a part of the larger world of both culture and politics . . . Far more important, in my view, is his overall recognition of the need for contemporary composers to forge stylistic languages (if not a language) that will be accessible to the common listener. This theme, which permeates the pages of The Rest Is Noise, is first sounded in Rosss discussion of the emergence just prior to World War I of the ‘New Viennese School of hermetic modernists led by Arnold Schoenberg . . . In The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross shows himself to be a surpassingly eloquent advocate for beauty, by any means necessary.”—Terry Teachout, Commentary

"As absorbing as a novel, as researched and erudite as the most academic tome, argued with the force and strength of an incisive essayist and deep thinker."—Daniel Felsenfeld, Symphony

“Over the past decade, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has established himself as one of our most talented practitioners of the art of the feuilleton, the popular journal piece. He thereby carries on a great tradition of musical writers including Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, and George Bernard Shaw. Now, for the first time, Ross has turned his feuilletonists sensibility to a longer form, the book, and hes made a terrific debut on the big stage. The Rest Is Noise aspires to present ‘the 20th century heard through its music. The book is a series of sweeping set pieces, held together by recurring characters and themes—such as the promiscuous adventures of a few notes from Richard Strausss Salome that were nicked by several other composers. Each chapter tells the story of a period or train of thought and centers on the main composers of the time . . . The book tells a compelling, epic, and entirely human story. Its a scholarly work, with a formidable train of endnotes, but it doesnt read that way. Ross is the rare author who knows his stuff technically but can write about it for everybody. He prose is lucid and engaging, and he has a particular gift for conjuring the sound and effect of music. Often, he manages to be analytical and evocative at the same time . . . A splendid success, thorough and well researched, eminently readable, with a sense of storytelling hard to find in books of music history. Seven years into a new century, its time to start toting up the last one, and Alex Ross has proved himself the right person to provide some perspective on this ‘abundant, benighted era. He consistently connects classical music to the life of creators and of cultures, and so conveys as few writers do the human reality of the music. As Charles Ives put it, ‘Music is life.”—Jan Swafford, Wilson Quarterly

"As quickly becomes clear, Ross's ambition in writing this book is neither to be a completist nor a music appreciator.  He aims to make a coherent narrative of the sprawling, violent, confused and confusing hundred years that propelled world history from cozy excesses of the waning Hapsburg Empire to the techno-revolution of California's Silicon Valley, and from Gustav Mahler to Terry Riley. Along the way, he writes extensively about Hitler, Stalin, FDR, John Kennedy, among other political figures. In the tradition of the cultural historian, Ross includes snippets of history, sociology, biography, philosophy, music theory, and literature . . . Ross gives us the story of 20th-century music—and it is nuanced, complex in its conception, and insightfully original. Moving chronologically and dramatically, the tale is not told but rather is shown through dramatic writing and subtle adjacencies of composers, aesthetic movements, political and social history, and discussions of the music. Few critics can evoke music as compellingly as Ross . . . Another of Ross's gifts as a writer is his ability to explicate musical theory for a literate but non-specialist readership. his cogent description of the whole-tone scale, in a discussion of Debussy's music, and his sensibly simple discussion of Stravinsky's turn from neo-classicism to a new kind of serialism are illuminating for any reader . . . the prose is bedizened with references from a rich variety of sources . . . Dramatic, erudite, and culturally expansive, this book makes fresh connections that narrative the story of 20th-century music in an original way. Ross has written an important work that I—and my students—will pick up, for pleasure, again and again."—Johanna Keller, Syracuse University, Chamber Music magazine

"The Rest Is Noise is one of those captivating cultural histories that manages both extensive sweep and engaging specificity, and it should come with a warning to readers that it might persuade them to quit their jobs in favor of sitting around listening to classical music for a year or two. (If you decide to do so, see Rosss recommended recordings at the back of the book.)"—Radhika Jones, Bookforum

"Alex Ross . . . carries on a great tradition of musical writers including Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, and George Bernard Shaw. Now, for the first time, Ross has turned his feuilletonists sensibility to a longer form, the book, and hes made a terrific debut on the big­stage . . . [The Rest Is Noise] tells a compelling, epic, and entirely human story."—Jan Swafford, The Wilson Quarterly

“As Alex Ross, the classical music critic of The New Yorker, writes in his superb narrative history, The Rest Is Noise, 20th-century music ‘still sends ripples of unease through concert audiences . . . When we encounter the works of György Ligeti, Hans Werner Henze, Witold Lutoslawski, or Olivier Messiaen—to name just four giants of 20th-cnetury music—we do not, alas, hear great music. We hear only noise. And we are all the poorer for it. How did it all go so very wrong? Why, over the course of the last century, did composers of classical music veer so sharply away from their audiences? Answering these questions, while illuminating the peculiar predicament of the composer in 20th-century culture, is Rosss project in this magisterial book. One could not hope for a better guide; his knowledge of both music and the historical forces that shaped it is deep and nuanced, and his descriptions of specific musical passages are rich and evocative, always employing the right metaphor or turn of phrase.”—Sundip Bose, The American Scholar

"[The Rest Is Noise] demonstrates that it is impossible to understand the larger historical narrative of the last century—or of any century, for that matter—without its music. In other words, Ross's achievement is all the more astounding because it makes music essential to the understanding of history beyond the history of the music itself. And what could matter more than that?"—Jonathan Rabb, Opera News

"With perpetual grace and excitement, Ross reanimates music buried in history and super-obscure record stores, and allows us to feel just how contemporary it can be."—Kevin Berger, Salon

"This elegant book imparts to the music itself—that airy and elusive vibration—what so many critics cannot: three dimensions."—James Marcus, Newsday

"A narrative that embraces the contradictions that characterize so much about the century just past, both in life and in art."—Steve Hicken, The High Hat

"Perhaps the least combative and doctrinaire of American classical-music critics, The New Yorker's Alex Ross turns out to be a brilliant chronicler of the combative, often stiflingly doctrinaire 20th century."—Gavin Borchert, Seattle Weekly

"In The Rest is Noise . . . [Ross] does not simply catalog major figures and artistic highlights, but presents music as an exciting phenomenon vitally related to broader political and social developments . . . [He] grasps music on a profound, composerlike level . . . "—Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"[Ross's] brave goal is nothing less than to bridge the gap between modern composers and listeners. In this task, he is almost phenomenally successful . . . "—Timothy Mangan, Orange County Register

"Early into The Rest Is Noise, I felt like I was reading a book I had been waiting for all my life."—Juliet Waters, C-Ville

"Sweeping yet compulsively readable . . . Lucid technical descriptions illuminate the densest of pieces without dulling their inherently thorny nature."—Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York

"The best book on what music is about—really about —that you or I will ever own."—Alan Rich, LA Weekly

"Superb narrative history . . . magisterial . . . One could not hope for a better guide; [Ross's] knowledge of both music and the historical forces that shaped it is deep and nuanced . . . "—Sudip Bose, The American Scholar

"Ross, the formidable New Yorker music critic, here takes a new approach to 20th-century music. Instead of putting music in the context of 20th-century history, he uses music as the context for history. Major historical events and composers of masterworks become the featured performers. For example, at the end of his discussion of Schoenberg, the author offers a brilliant comparison of the ends of Alban Berg's Wozzeck and Claude Debussy's Pélleas et Mélisande as representative depictions of orphans of the fin de siccle. Benjamin Britten gets the most sympathetic treatment of all in Ross's analysis of Peter Grimes. This is scholarship at its best—masterful and approachable. Ross provides new photographs and takes advantage of sources previously untapped for such discussions, e.g., Hitler's speeches and Goebbel's diary. This volume joins such classics as Charlie Rosen's The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation. Extensive bibliographic reference notes serve well."—J. P. Ambrose, emerita, University of Vermont, Choice

"There seems always to have been a ‘crisis of modern music, but by some insane miracle one person finds the way out. The impossibility of it gives me hope. Fast-forwarding through so many music-makers creative highs and lows in the company of Alex Rosss incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyones fire for music."—Björk

"Alex Ross has produced an introduction to twentieth-century music that is also an absorbing story of personalities and events that is also a history of modern cultural forms and styles that is also a study of social, political, and technological change. The Rest Is Noise is cultural history the way cultural history should be written: a single strong narrative operating on many levels at once."—Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club

"You don't have to be an aficionado of modern music to love this book: Alex Rosss extraordinary gifts as a writer, his deep knowledge of music, and his fresh forays into cultural history make The Rest is Noise a complete delight."—Jean Strouse, author of Morgan: American Financier

"The Rest Is Noise reads like a sprawling, intense novel, one of utopian dreams, doom, and consolation, with the most extraordinary cast of characters from music and history alike."—Osvaldo Golijov

"In words that are beautiful, passionate, witty, and utterly compelling, Alex Ross has written a true rarity—a book about music that makes you want to run and listen to every note he talks about."—Emanuel Ax
 
"A rare and successful weaving together of musical and cultural history, at once sweeping and accessible, written felicitously by a seasoned music critic at home in the history of the last century. An enticing and bold invitation to learn something of the great themes of the past century."—Fritz Stern, author of Five Germanys I Have Known

“With every page you turn, the story departs further from the old fairy tale of giants bestriding the earth and looks more like the twentieth century we remember, with fallible human beings reacting to, reflecting, and affecting with symbolic sounds a flux of conditions and events created by other fallible human beings. And turn the pages you do."—Richard Taruskin, author of the Oxford History of Western Music

"The music critic for The New Yorker tells the story of the 20th century through its music. Ross explores 'the cultural predicament of the composer,' tracking how the composer's role has changed from its privileged status in fin-de-siecle Europe, where people like Mahler were celebrated like rock stars, to the composer's current status, compromised by the advent of mass communication, the Great Depression, World War II and America's rise as a global superpower. The author is a careful historian aware of the pitfalls of conventional histories about music since 1900. He calls such histories 'teleological tales,' narratives under the shadow of Arnold Schoenberg—the German composer and champion of atonality—that myopically focus on a particular goal of the study of music history and omit that which doesn't fit into the achievement of that goal. Ross cites Jean Sibelius as an example, devoting an entire chapter to the troubled Finnish composer, whose music was acclaimed in his lifetime but has since been marginalized by historians who qualify him as a 'nationalist' composer, implying his music lacks universal resonance. Ironically, Ross notes, Sibelius has influenced contemporary composers perhaps more than Schoenberg. In choosing to eschew the convenience of these streamlined teleological tales, the author is faced with a complicated matrix of styles, ideas and personalities. But this is no plodding history. With his typically lyrical and attentive style, the author presents a lucid, often gripping story of a complex century. A must-read for those who have struggled with understanding modern music and a benchmark book that should eventually become a classic history of the 20th century."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich's downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives—such as Shostakovich's struggles under the Soviet regime—make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out—in precise but readily accessible language—the notes that link Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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