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
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.
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.
“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 aboutreally aboutthat you or I will ever own.” Alan Rich, LA Weekly