The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

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Overview

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

Winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

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The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

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Overview

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

Winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Geoff Dyer
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.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salomein 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 Storyto 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 Grimesstands 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. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

While there are numerous books on the subject of 20th-century music, this is the first to take a comprehensive, post-2000 view of the tumultuous and untidy but fascinating history of music and culture from 1900 to 2000. Ross, an award-winning music critic for The New Yorker, details-in 15 chapters organized into three large chronological sections (i.e., 1900-33, 1933-45, and 1945-2000)-the personalities, the ideological battles, and, of course, the musical works that helped to define their era. Among the large themes that Ross tackles are the widening gulf between classical and popular music and the inability of contemporary music to command the attention and respect afforded other modern artistic endeavors, such as art, architecture, and literature. Though the narrative is lively and at times dramatic, the text is supported by serious research; copious endnotes draw on both popular and scholarly writing. There are no examples in musical notation, and the language is comprehensible to the layperson. Despite a surprisingly short list of suggested listening that omits some major composers (e.g., Paul Hindemith, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Philip Glass), this rich and engrossing history is highly recommended for all collections.
—Larry Lipkis

Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher
"The Rest Is Noise is 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 Book Review

"[A] Brilliant, hugely enjoyable cultural history." —The Christian Science Monitor

"Ross is a surpremely gifted writer who brings together the political and technological richness of the world inside the magic circle of the concert hall, so that each illuminates the other." —Lev Grossman, Time

"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." —The Economist

"The Rest Is Noise is a long and thrilling ride. . . . [Ross] writes about music in vivid language humming with intelligence. He tells great stories about musicians' lives and illuminates their work with the light of his own experiences." —Kevin Berger, Salon.com

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

The Barnes & Noble Review
Just as living air-conditioned lives has led us to be simultaneously both less aware and more sensitive to the constant invention of the weather, so has our by now complete immersion in a world of recorded sound altered our perception of the power of music. Certainly when it comes to classical composition, our listening is, generally speaking, less rapt and more impatient; the commodifying of opera, symphony, string quartet, and even the most innovative compositional forms into so many CDs has stripped them of their sense of larger destiny as cultural and historical meaning distilled into fleeting moments of experience in the life of the listener. In this rich, stimulating, and thoroughly satisfying book, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross restores that sense of destiny by "listening to the twentieth century," leading us from a 1906 performance of Strauss' Salome (conducted by the composer and attended by Puccini, Mahler, and Schoenberg) to Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. Attuned to the way musical meaning, though "vague, mutable, and, in the end, deeply personal," can underscore and even echo the movements of history, Ross puts his agile intelligence, eclectic ear, and superb critical skills to use in enriching our experience of -- or, better yet, introducing us to -- the works of composers as varied as Stravinsky and Sibelius, Britten and Xenakis. Combining his enviable erudition with a gift for fashioning compelling narrative paths through thorny but exhilarating aesthetic and intellectual terrain, peopled with maverick minds and compelling personalities, Ross has written a fascinating, even exciting book, one that will inform a lifetime's listening. --James Mustich
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781433207938
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/16/2007
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 18 CDs, 23 hours
  • Pages: 14
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet 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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Read an Excerpt

The Rest is Noice


By Alex Ross

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Copyright © 2007 Alex Ross
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-24939-3


Chapter One

When Richard Strauss conducted his opera Salome on May 16, 1906, in the Austrian city of Graz, several crowned heads of European music gathered to witness the event. The premiere of Salome had taken place in Dresden five months earlier, and word had got out that Strauss had created something beyond the pale-an ultra-dissonant biblical spectacle, based on a play by a British degenerate whose name was not mentioned in polite company, a work so frightful in its depiction of adolescent lust that imperial censors had banned it from the Court Opera in Vienna.

Giacomo Puccini, the creator of La Bohème and Tosca, made a trip north to hear what "terribly cacophonous thing" his German rival had concocted. Gustav Mahler, the director of the Vienna Opera, attended with his wife, the beautiful and controversial Alma. The bold young composer Arnold Schoenberg arrived from Vienna with his brother-in-law Alexander Zemlinsky and no fewer than six of his pupils. One of them, Alban Berg, traveled with an older friend, who later recalled the "feverish impatience and boundless excitement" that all felt as the evening approached. The widow of Johann Strauss II, composer of On the Beautiful Blue Danube, represented old Vienna.

Ordinary music enthusiasts filled out the crowd-"young people from Vienna, with only the vocal score as hand luggage," Richard Strauss noted. Among them may have been the seventeen-year-old Adolf Hitler, who had just seen Mahler conduct Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in Vienna. Hitler later told Strauss's son that he had borrowed money from relatives to make the trip. There was even a fictional character present-Adrian Leverkühn, the hero of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, the tale of a composer in league with the devil.

The Graz papers brought news from Croatia, where a Serbo-Croat movement was gaining momentum, and from Russia, where the tsar was locked in conflict with the country's first parliament. Both stories carried tremors of future chaos-the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, the Russian Revolution of 1917. For the moment, though, Europe maintained the facade of civilization. The British war minister, Richard Haldane, was quoted as saying that he loved German literature and enjoyed reciting passages from Goethe's Faust.

Strauss and Mahler, the titans of Austro-German music, spent the afternoon in the hills above the city, as Alma Mahler recounted in her memoirs. A photographer captured the composers outside the opera house, apparently preparing to set out on their expedition-Strauss smiling in a boater hat, Mahler squinting in the sun. The company visited a waterfall and had lunch in an inn, where they sat at a plain wooden table. They must have made a strange pair: Strauss, tall and lanky, with a bulbous forehead, a weak chin, strong but sunken eyes; Mahler, a full head shorter, a muscular hawk of a man. As the sun began to go down, Mahler became nervous about the time and suggested that the party head back to the Hotel Elefant, where they were staying, to prepare for the performance. "They can't start without me," Strauss said. "Let 'em wait." Mahler replied: "If you won't go, then I will-and conduct in your place."

Mahler was forty-six, Strauss forty-one. They were in most respects polar opposites. Mahler was a kaleidoscope of moods-childlike, heaven-storming, despotic, despairing. In Vienna, as he strode from his apartment near the Schwarzenbergplatz to the opera house on the Ringstrasse, cabdrivers would whisper to their passengers, "Der Mahler!" Strauss was earthy, self-satisfied, more than a little cynical, a closed book to most observers. The soprano Gemma Bellincioni, who sat next to him at a banquet after the performance in Graz, described him as "a pure kind of German, without poses, without long-winded speeches, little gossip and no inclination to talk about himself and his work, a gaze of steel, an indecipherable expression." Strauss came from Munich, a backward place in the eyes of sophisticated Viennese such as Gustav and Alma. Alma underlined this impression in her memoir by rendering Strauss's dialogue in an exaggerated Bavarian dialect.

Not surprisingly, the relationship between the two composers suffered from frequent misunderstandings. Mahler would recoil from unintended slights; Strauss would puzzle over the sudden silences that ensued. Strauss was still trying to understand his old colleague some four decades later, when he read Alma's book and annotated it. "All untrue," he wrote, next to the description of his behavior in Graz.

"Strauss and I tunnel from opposite sides of the mountain," Mahler said. "One day we shall meet." Both saw music as a medium of conflict, a battlefield of extremes. They reveled in the tremendous sounds that a hundred-piece orchestra could make, yet they also released energies of fragmentation and collapse. The heroic narratives of nineteenth-century Romanticism, from Beethoven's symphonies to Wagner's music dramas, invariably ended with a blaze of transcendence, of spiritual overcoming. Mahler and Strauss told stories of more circuitous shape, often questioning the possibility of a truly happy outcome.

Each made a point of supporting the other's music. In 1901, Strauss became president of the Allgemeiner deutscher Musikverein, or All-German Music Association, and his first major act was to program Mahler's Third Symphony for the festival the following year. Mahler's works appeared so often on the association's programs in subsequent seasons that some critics took to calling the organization the Allgemeiner deutscher Mahlerverein. Others dubbed it the Annual German Carnival of Cacophony. Mahler, for his part, marveled at Salome. Strauss had played and sung the score for him the previous year, in a piano shop in Strasbourg, while passersby pressed against the windows trying to overhear. Salome promised to be one of the highlights of Mahler's Vienna tenure, but the censors balked at accepting an opera in which biblical characters perform unspeakable acts. Furious, Mahler began hinting that his days in Vienna were numbered. He wrote to Strauss in March 1906: "You would not believe how vexatious this matter has been for me or (between ourselves) what consequences it may have for me."

So Salome came to Graz, an elegant city of 150,000 people, capital of the agricultural province of Styria. The Stadt-Theater staged the opera at the suggestion of the critic Ernst Decsey, an associate of Mahler's, who assured the management that it would create a succès de scandale.

"The city was in a state of great excitement," Decsey wrote in his autobiography, Music Was His Life. "Parties formed and split. Pub philosophers buzzed about what was going on ... Visitors from the provinces, critics, press people, reporters, and foreigners from Vienna .. Three more-than-sold-out houses. Porters groaned, and hoteliers reached for the keys to their safes." The critic fueled the anticipation with a high-flown preview article acclaiming Strauss's "tone-color world," his "polyrhythms and polyphony," his "breakup of the narrow old tonality," his "fetish ideal of an Omni-Tonality."

As dusk fell, Mahler and Strauss finally appeared at the opera house, having rushed back to town in their chauffeur-driven car. The crowd milling around in the lobby had an air of nervous electricity. The orchestra played a fanfare when Strauss walked up to the podium, and the audience applauded stormily. Then silence descended, the clarinet played a softly slithering scale, and the curtain went up.

In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the princess of Judaea dances for her stepfather, Herod, and demands the head of John the Baptist as reward. She had surfaced several times in operatic history, usually with her more scandalous features suppressed. Strauss's brazenly modern retelling takes off from Oscar Wilde's 1891 play Salomé, in which the princess shamelessly eroticizes the body of John the Baptist and indulges in a touch of necrophilia at the end. When Strauss read Hedwig Lachmann's German translation of Wilde-in which the accent is dropped from Salomé's name-he decided to set it to music word for word, instead of employing a verse adaptation. Next to the first line, "How beautiful is the princess Salome tonight," he made a note to use the key of C-sharp minor. But this would turn out to be a different sort of C-sharp minor from Bach's or Beethoven's.

Strauss had a flair for beginnings. In 1896 he created what may be, after the first notes of Beethoven's Fifth, the most famous opening flourish in music: the "mountain sunrise" from Thus Spake Zarathustra, deployed to great effect in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The passage draws its cosmic power from the natural laws of sound. If you pluck a string tuned to a low C, then pluck it again while pinching it in half, the tone rises to the next C above. This is the interval of the octave. Further subdivisions yield intervals of the fifth (C to G), the fourth (G to the next higher C), and the major third (C to E). These are the lower steps of the natural harmonic series, or overtone series, which shimmers like a rainbow from any vibrating string. The same intervals appear at the outset of Zarathustra, and they accumulate into a gleaming C-major chord.

Salome, written nine years after Zarathustra, begins very differently, in a state of volatility and flux. The first notes on the clarinet are simply a rising scale, but it is split down the middle: the first half belongs to C-sharp major, the second half to G major. This is an unsettling opening, for several reasons. First, the notes C-sharp and G are separated by the interval known as the tritone, one step narrower than the perfect fifth. (Leonard Bernstein's "Maria" opens with a tritone resolving to a fifth.) This interval has long caused uneasy vibrations in human ears; medieval scholars called it diabolus in musica, the musical devil.

In the Salome scale, not just two notes but two key-areas, two opposing harmonic spheres, are juxtaposed. From the start, we are plunged into an environment where bodies and ideas circulate freely, where opposites meet. There's a hint of the glitter and swirl of city life: the debonairly gliding clarinet looks forward to the jazzy character who kicks off Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The scale might also suggest a meeting of irreconcilable belief systems; after all, Salome takes place at the intersection of Roman, Jewish, and Christian societies. Most acutely, this little run of notes takes us inside the mind of one who is exhibiting all the contradictions of her world.

The first part of Salome focuses on the confrontation between Salome and the prophet Jochanaan: she the symbol of unstable sexuality, he the symbol of ascetic rectitude. She tries to seduce him, he shrinks away and issues a curse, and the orchestra expresses its own fascinated disgust with an interlude in C-sharp minor-in Jochanaan's stentorian manner, but in Salome's key.

Then Herod comes onstage. The tetrarch is a picture of modern neurosis, a sensualist with a yearning for the moral life, his music awash in overlapping styles and shifting moods. He comes out on the terrace; looks for the princess; gazes at the moon, which is "reeling through the clouds like a drunken woman"; orders wine, slips in blood, stumbles over the body of a soldier who has committed suicide; feels cold, feels a wind-there is a hallucination of wings beating the air. It's quiet again; then more wind, more visions. The orchestra plays fragments of waltzes, expressionistic clusters of dissonance, impressionistic washes of sound. There is a turbulent episode as five Jews in Herod's court dispute the meaning of the Baptist's prophecies; two Nazarenes respond with the Christian point of view.

When Herod persuades his stepdaughter to dance the Dance of the Seven Veils, she does so to the tune of an orchestral interlude that, on first hearing, sounds disappointingly vulgar in its thumping rhythms and pseudo-Oriental exotic color. Mahler, when he heard Salome, thought that his colleague had tossed away what should have been the highlight of the piece. But Strauss almost certainly knew what he was doing: this is the music that Herod likes, and it serves as a kitschy foil for the grisliness to come.

Salome now calls for the prophet's head, and Herod, in a sudden religious panic, tries to get her to change her mind. She refuses. The executioner prepares to behead the Baptist in his cistern prison. At this point, the bottom drops out of the music. A toneless bass-drum rumble and strangulated cries in the double basses give way to a huge smear of tone in the full orchestra.

At the climax, the head of John the Baptist lies before Salome on a platter. Having disturbed us with unheard-of dissonances, Strauss now disturbs us with plain chords of necrophiliac bliss. For all the perversity of the material, this is still a love story, and the composer honors his heroine's emotions. "The mystery of love," Salome sings, "is greater than the mystery of death." Herod is horrified by the spectacle that his own incestuous lust has engendered. "Hide the moon, hide the stars!" he rasps. "Something terrible is going to happen!" He turns his back and walks up the staircase of the palace. The moon, obeying his command, goes behind the clouds. An extraordinary sound emanates from the lower brass and winds: the opera's introductory motif is telescoped-with one half-step alteration-into a single glowering chord. Above it, the flutes and clarinets launch into an obsessively elongated trill. Salome's love themes rise up again. At the moment of the kiss, two ordinary chords are mashed together, creating a momentary eight-note dissonance.

The moon comes out again. Herod, at the top of the stairs, turns around, and screams, "Kill that woman!" The orchestra attempts to restore order with an ending in C minor, but succeeds only in adding to the tumult: the horns play fast figures that blur into a howl, the timpani pound away at a four-note chromatic pattern, the woodwinds shriek on high. In effect, the opera ends with eight bars of noise.

The crowd roared its approval-that was the most shocking thing. "Nothing more satanic and artistic has been seen on the German opera stage," Decsey wrote admiringly. Strauss held court that night at the Hotel Elefant, in a never-to-be-repeated gathering that included Mahler, Puccini, and Schoenberg. When someone declared that he'd rather shoot himself than memorize the part of Salome, Strauss answered, "Me, too," to general amusement. The next day, the composer wrote to his wife, Pauline, who had stayed home in Berlin: "It is raining, and I am sitting on the garden terrace of my hotel, in order to report to you that 'Salome' went well, gigantic success, people applauding for ten minutes until the fire curtain came down, etc., etc."

Salome went on to be performed in some twenty-five different cities. The triumph was so complete that Strauss could afford to laugh off criticism from Kaiser Wilhelm II. "I am sorry that Strauss composed this Salome," the Kaiser reportedly said. "Normally I'm very keen on him, but this is going to do him a lot of damage." Strauss would relate this story and add with a flourish: "Thanks to that damage I was able to build my villa in Garmisch!"

On the train back to Vienna, Mahler expressed bewilderment over his colleague's success. He considered Salome a significant and audacious piece-"one of the greatest masterworks of our time," he later said-and could not understand why the public took an immediate liking to it. Genius and popularity were, he apparently thought, incompatible. Traveling in the same carriage was the Styrian poet and novelist Peter Rosegger. According to Alma, when Mahler voiced his reservations, Rosegger replied that the voice of the people is the voice of God-Vox populi, vox Dei. Mahler asked whether he meant the voice of the people at the present moment or the voice of the people over time. Nobody seemed to know the answer to that question.

The younger musicians from Vienna thrilled to the innovations in Strauss's score, but were suspicious of his showmanship. One group, including Alban Berg, met at a restaurant to discuss what they had heard. They might well have used the words that Adrian Leverkühn applies to Strauss in Doctor Faustus: "What a gifted fellow! The happy-go-lucky revolutionary, cocky and conciliatory. Never were the avant-garde and the box office so well acquainted. Shocks and discords aplenty-then he good-naturedly takes it all back and assures the philistines that no harm was intended. But a hit, a definite hit." As for Adolf Hitler, it is not certain that he was actually there; he may merely have claimed to have attended, for whatever reason. But something about the opera evidently stuck in his memory.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Rest is Noice by Alex Ross Copyright © 2007 by Alex Ross. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Preface     xi
1900-1933
The Golden Age: Strauss, Mahler, and the Fin de Siecle     3
Doctor Faust: Schoenberg, Debussy, and Atonality     33
Dance of the Earth: The Rite, the Folk, le Jazz     74
Invisible Men: American Composers from Ives to Ellington     120
Apparition from the Woods: The Loneliness of Jean Sibelius     157
City of Nets: Berlin in the Twenties     178
1933-1945
The Art of Fear: Music in Stalin's Russia     215
Music for All: Music in FDR's America     260
Death Fugue: Music in Hitler's Germany     305
1945-2000
Zero Hour: The U.S. Army and German Music, 1945-1949     343
Brave New World: The Cold War and the Avant-Garde of the Fifties     355
"Grimes! Grimes!": The Passion of Benjamin Britten     411
Zion Park: Messiaen, Ligeti, and the Avant-Garde of the Sixties     444
Beethoven Was Wrong: Bop, Rock, and the Minimalists     473
Sunken Cathedrals: Music at Century's End     512
Epilogue     541
Notes     545
Suggested Listening     595
Acknowledgments     597
Index     601
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2008

    Best Non-Fiction I've Read in Years

    'The Rest is Noise' is one of the best works of non-fiction I've ever read 'and I've read tens of thousands'. Alex Ross is stunningly learned and wonderfully fresh in his ideas. He somehow manages to be erudite and plain-spoken at the same time. He is a great spirit and a truly gifted writer. Every sentence is beautifully composed, but never over-written. I also learned a ton about 20th-century classical music. This is an incredibly good choice for someone who has a serious interest in the arts but doesn't know much about recent classical music. I can't imagine anyone not loving this book. Kudos to the NY Times for naming this one of the 10 Best Books of 2007. Superb choice.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2007

    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

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2009

    Magnificent

    THE REST IS NOISE is one of the finest books of its kind. Mr. Ross has done a magnificent job, first of research, and then in writing in a clear, informative and entertaining way. I read the book in its entirety, and find myself going back to it from time to time to check on certain references on a particular composer or period. I have given the book as a gift on many occasions and will do so in the future. A truly wonderful achievement.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    Fascinating Glimpse of Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries

    For anyone one interested in starting to weave together the diverse strands, and sometimes just vague notions about modern music, this is the book to help do that. It is ground breaking in it's refreshing view of music in our time.

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  • Posted March 26, 2010

    Fabulous Book

    A wonderful book that explores the music and the personalities of the composers throughout the Twentieth century. Also examines the political and economic forces that influenced music in the twentieth century, from Stalin's Soviet Union to FDR's America to Hitler's Germany. A wonderful interweaving of history and art.

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