The Rest Is Noise
The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is a voyage into the labyrinth of modern music, which remains an obscure world for most people. While paintings of Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, and lines from T. S. Eliot are quoted on the yearbook pages of alienated teenagers across the land, twentieth-century classical music still sends ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, its influence can be felt everywhere. Atonal chords crop up in jazz. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalism has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward.The Rest Is Noise shows why twentieth-century composers felt compelled to create a famously bewildering variety of sounds, from the purest beauty to the purest noise. It tells of a remarkable array of maverick personalities who 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 sweet sounds or battered them with dissonance, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art. The narrative goes 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. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.

The Rest Is Noise Details

TitleThe Rest Is Noise
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 16th, 2007
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN-139780374249397
Rating
GenreMusic, Nonfiction, History, Art

The Rest Is Noise Review

  • Tony
    January 1, 1970
    You know how you can watch a foreign language movie, without subtitles, and still enjoy the film? You may not speak German but can still tell that Hitler's pissed off. You may not speak French, but you can tell that Juliette Binoche has reached a point of existential doubt in a meretricious relationship. This book was like that for me. I may not, even now, be able to articulate a difference between atonality and twelve-tone music (is there one?), but I love being told that "some stabbing single You know how you can watch a foreign language movie, without subtitles, and still enjoy the film? You may not speak German but can still tell that Hitler's pissed off. You may not speak French, but you can tell that Juliette Binoche has reached a point of existential doubt in a meretricious relationship. This book was like that for me. I may not, even now, be able to articulate a difference between atonality and twelve-tone music (is there one?), but I love being told that "some stabbing single notes" in a second movement are like "a knife in Stalin's heart."This book is Music in the Twentieth Century. Or, the Twentieth Century, with music. "Crescendo" "più forte" "Silence". It starts with Richard Strauss conducting Salome. Puccini took the train north; Mahler et ux attended. Schoenberg and Berg were there. Hitler said he was. And if you recall: 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.Leverkühn looms large in this history, a twisting of Evil with Music, and a twisting of Music and the human soul. The notes I heard kept asking "What's next?" and "What's next?" In slow movements, and fast.There's some tabloid stuff here: that Alma Mahler, what a tart; that Pierre Boulez, what a jerk. But it's also a Music Appreciation course, and Alex Ross clearly knows his material. He attempts to make this inter-active by offering a website - www.therestisnoise.com - with click-and-play excerpts. I found that cumbersome and chose my own inter-activity, playing music from my collection or youtubing. I'll annoy you in a bit with some links.Ross has an ear for humor too: The joke went around that Webern had introduced the marking pensato: Don't play the note, only think it.I didn't always hear what Ross heard. There's Sibelius in Barber? But then he didn't hear Gorecki in Barber; or didn't say so. That's part of the fun.Let me break into some dissonant chords now and give you fragments from the book, things I learned.-- Sibelius remains a big deal in his native land; his face was on every coin until Finland converted to the Euro. The annual Finnish expenditure on the arts is roughly 200 times per capita what the United States spends on the National Endowment of the Arts. I'm not saying that's wrong; just sayin'.-- Ruth Crawford Seeger was Pete Seeger's stepmother. She created some (to my ears) really interesting avant garde music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqz9C... . She stopped composing when her Communist husband, a formulator of "dissonant counterpoint", told her "women can't compose symphonies." Oh, Artemisia.-- Perhaps I would have understood Josef Skvorecky's The Engineer of Human Souls better if I knew that it was Stalin who once mused that writers should be "engineers of human souls." -- Musical luminaries descended on Paris in 1952 for the Masterpieces of the XXth Century festival. It was thought to be funded by Julius Fleischmann, the yeast-and-gin millionaire. In reality, the whole event was financed by the CIA.There is a bit of The Emperor's New Clothes to the excesses of art, music included. A century that started with Strauss, Mahler and Sibelius ended with:-- John Cage's 4'33": The original score was written out on conventional music paper, tempo + 60, in three movements. David Tudor walked onstage, sat down at the piano, opened the piano lid, and did nothing, except to close the lid and open it again at the beginning of each subsequent movement. The music was the sound of the surrounding space. ... It was a piece that anyone could have written, as skeptics never failed to point out, but, as Cage seldom failed to respond, no one else did.-- Luigi Nono's signature piece, Il canto sospeso, took texts from anti-Fascist resistance fighters - "I am not afraid of death," "I will be calm and at peace facing the execution squad," "I go in the belief of a better life for you" - and broke them into syllables which he scattered throughout the various choral parts. By making the words less accessible, he believed, they would matter more.-- David Tudor, attacking a piano with boxing gloves.-- Dieter Schnebel, who in his work Abfälle I,1 invited audience members to contribute to the performance by conversing, making noises of approval or disapproval, coughing, and moving chairs.-- And Alvin Lucier, who in Music for Solo Performer attached electrodes to his head and broadcast his brain's alpha waves to loudspeakers around the room, the low-frequency tones causing nearby percussion instruments to vibrate.I'm not kidding.And yet, Ross opened up much of the "new" music to me. This was sometimes accomplished just by my own perusal of works by a composer that Ross mentions. Henry Cowell, for instance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLkg-.... Yes, elbows. Some of Cowell's pieces are all inside the piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3CPr....Delightfully, there are composers I'd never heard of who intrigued, after some exploration. Ross notes six "significant voices" in contemporary music:-- Franghiz Ali-Zadeh of Azerbaijan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nevnq...-- Chen Yi of China: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVFZL...-- Unsuk Chin of South Korea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vqiq...-- Sofia Gubaidulina of Russia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37e3p...-- Kaija Saariaho of Finland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkmzX...-- Pauline Oliveros of the United States: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rdnX...Too late for Ruth Crawford Seeger, or Artemisia for that matter, but all six are women.The Twentieth Century. You may think of Rothko paintings. Think of a musical piece written by Morton Feldman, mourning his friend's death: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wHuh.... The Twentieth Century. When classical music takes a drug and goes Rock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffr0o.... That's right. Take a walk on the wild side.The Twentieth Century. I'll let Steve Goodman sing us out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ_3w...
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    This book took me way too long to read, which is a little strange because I found it very interesting and quite inspiring. I'm tempted to give it five stars, but I'm too much of a dilettante when it comes to cough, serious music to not necessarily take everything that the author is saying at face value. I do have two complaints about the books though, the first is that the author clearly dislikes the one of the few people I probably do count as an actual hero of mine. I don't hold it strongly ag This book took me way too long to read, which is a little strange because I found it very interesting and quite inspiring. I'm tempted to give it five stars, but I'm too much of a dilettante when it comes to cough, serious music to not necessarily take everything that the author is saying at face value. I do have two complaints about the books though, the first is that the author clearly dislikes the one of the few people I probably do count as an actual hero of mine. I don't hold it strongly against him that he finds Adorno to (what's the word), not necessarily wrong, but some kind of extremist snob for lack of a better word. Every time Adorno makes an appearance on these pages he comes across like a rapid attack dog of anti-everything except for strict Schoenberg non-mass appeal. Which might be true, I've never really delved into his music writings too deeply, but the picture of him as an enfant terrible is I like a bit of a cartoonish exaggeration. The second complaint I would have of the book is that it kind of stops short of being a history of 20th century music and kind of peters out around 1976 with Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. A few other composers are talked about and works that they release in the same year, but all talk of the last quarter of the century is treated in a very fragmentary and stilted manner. Maybe there isn't much to talk about, but the style of the book changes in the last fifty pages or so in a way that makes the very end of the book read like a series of notes the author made on a handful of composers and records. In this last section there are also name droppings of pop artists like Radiohead, Sonic Youth and Bjork, which pulls together the history of serious music with pop music, but without doing much more than dropping the names in the swirl of the kind of chaotic finish. The author also uses the phrase 'moshpit of the mind' which is almost totally inexcusable in the context it's given in, and actually shouldn't be used by anyone. It's moments like that which seem to make the author trying to hard to sound hip, but there isn't anything hip about using the word moshpit, and really the only people who would ever say something like that are someone's dad who heard the word and thinks it's what with it people are saying. I can't hold this against the author too strongly though.All in all I really enjoyed this book, and it's treatment of pre-World War 2 music especially in Germany was very informative to me. I have a feeling that anyone seriously into modern music will find the book to be missing some of their favorites, or think the book treats certain movements too quickly, but as a general overview of a chaotic century's musical trends this book seems to do it's job just fine.
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  • Paul Christensen
    January 1, 1970
    This book could be subtitled: ‘Musicians who did stuff after Wagner, with wildly varied results’. Wagner hovers like a ghost over this work, the Great Father whose achievements couldn’t be surpassed in toto, only in miniature via crazier and crazier endeavours.The composers range from deep genius (Debussy, Sibelius) to sterile fapping (too many to name), but whether one loves or hates their music is irrelevant as this is primarily a work of social history. The author describes ‘classical’ music This book could be subtitled: ‘Musicians who did stuff after Wagner, with wildly varied results’. Wagner hovers like a ghost over this work, the Great Father whose achievements couldn’t be surpassed in toto, only in miniature via crazier and crazier endeavours.The composers range from deep genius (Debussy, Sibelius) to sterile fapping (too many to name), but whether one loves or hates their music is irrelevant as this is primarily a work of social history. The author describes ‘classical’ music in the 2000s as a ‘sunken cathedral’, i.e. an interregnum, and who knows what comes next?
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  • Hadrian
    January 1, 1970
    The story of classical music in the 20th century is no doubt one of intense changes and an immense cast of characters. How, exactly, did we go from Mahler in the beginning of the century to Reich and Adams with a bit of Shostakovich and Stockhausen in between?Ross takes two main approaches here - the first is a political/social context in which classical music evolved and influenced each other. His story begins in fin de siècle Vienna and that era of social experimentation, through the dictators The story of classical music in the 20th century is no doubt one of intense changes and an immense cast of characters. How, exactly, did we go from Mahler in the beginning of the century to Reich and Adams with a bit of Shostakovich and Stockhausen in between?Ross takes two main approaches here - the first is a political/social context in which classical music evolved and influenced each other. His story begins in fin de siècle Vienna and that era of social experimentation, through the dictatorships of the 1930s and 1940s, where art was a mandated tool of the state. By contrast, he portrays the exiles in Roosevelt's New Deal America, where classical music was mostly allowed to flourish and get deals with Radio Orchestras and Disney — noticeably better than Hitler or Stalin, who shot you according to your race or class status, respectively. Hitler styled himself an artist, and had a keen appreciation for his conception of Volkische art and culture - stemming from Wagnerian operas, and his distaste for modernism. His favorites were Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner, and so forth. Mendelssohn disappeared, however, because he was Jewish. Strauss was coopted by the state, and there were many contradictions between Hitler's vision of Kunst and the reality. Goebbels hated Strauss and wanted him gone, but it would be too embarrassing. Hitler wanted to invite the rest of his party members to the opera shows, but they wanted to go boozing instead. Stalin, on the other hand, wanted to show that high culture could exist without the constraints of capitalism. Shostakovich was one of the main Soviet composers of the era, and cried after the premieres of his propaganda pieces in the 1940s. He found himself lecturing on the 'class-origins' of Chopin and Debussy, and got into trouble in the United States after a heated exchange with Aaron Copland.Ross continues this investigation through the avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s, seeing what Adorno dimly prophesied as the 'end of art', and how classical music continued to grow and metamorphose after his glum dicta. Electronic classical, folk classical, minimalist classical, and now the modern day with composers like Arvo Pärt. It is this duality which often pervades Ross' look, specifically the question of whether 'high-culture' and 'pop culture' can continue to exist as opposites, and as mutually exclusive to each other. His primary contention is that classical music is not a dead form of art, but one which has changed, perhaps suddenly and almost violently over the past hundred years. Ross' investigations are not always so phlegmatically political. He continues with a series of biographical essays on the composers themselves, and their relationships with other composers, their predecessors, and their influences. Mahler was wrecked with inner demons of depression, Sibelius had alcoholism, and Shostakovich had not only his inner demons, but the demon in the Kremlin as well. Not all of the biographies are so lurid. The dirtiest story we know about Messiaen is that he once ate an entire pear tart in one sitting.The most common complaint with this book, I'd imagine, is that someone's favorite composer or their favorite works are snubbed, whereas some other hack got an entire chapter devoted to them. I have my gripes there too, as I am one of the few people who cannot take the serialists seriously. However, this book is a solid overview on of the great modern composers and their works, and a reasoned appreciation for all, even the ones you personally dislike.The astute reader may note that I have barely talked about the music at all. It would be useless for me to do so. Instead, it would be better to look up the pieces referenced, and listen to them, so as to decide for yourself. Very few people can dare to write about music. Ross might. I cannot. He offers a list of suggested listening, which I am linking here. If not just this review, but the book itself convinces you to explore and feel further, then he has succeeded.
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  • Jonathan Barry
    January 1, 1970
    I think this book is best read and listened to at the same time; it really adds to it. As such, I created a Youtube playlist to go along with your read, which you can find here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=...If you're looking for a listen with better sound quality and don't mind finding them yourselves (I can't blame you), then here is the list of songs that I thought captured the book:Richard Strauss – Also Sprach ZarathustraGustav Mahler – Symphony No. 8Claude Debussy – Arabesque ICl I think this book is best read and listened to at the same time; it really adds to it. As such, I created a Youtube playlist to go along with your read, which you can find here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=...If you're looking for a listen with better sound quality and don't mind finding them yourselves (I can't blame you), then here is the list of songs that I thought captured the book:Richard Strauss – Also Sprach ZarathustraGustav Mahler – Symphony No. 8Claude Debussy – Arabesque IClaude Debussy – Prelude to the Afternoon of a FaunArnold Schoenberg – Verklärte NachtAnton Webern – Six Pieces for OrchestraIgor Stravinsky – Rite of SpringDarius Milhaud – ScaramoucheWill Marion Cook – Swing Along!Charles Ives – The Unanswered QuestionGeorge Gershwin – Rhapsody in BlueJean Sibelius – Symphony No. 2 Paul Hindemith - Sonate per viola e pianoforteLouis Armstrong – Mack the KnifeArnold Schoenberg – JakobsleiterAlban Berg – Lulu SuiteDmitri Shostakovich – Symphony No. 5Aaron Copland – Appalachian SpringJohn Cage – Music of ChangesKarlheinz Stockhausen – TelemusikBenjamin Britten – Four Sea Interludes from “Peter Grimes” Olivier Messiaen – Quartet for the End of TimeMorton Feldman – Rothko ChapelJohn Adams – Common Tones in Simple Time
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  • kaelan
    January 1, 1970
    This isn't something I say lightly, but pretty much everyone should consider reading Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise.* Why? Because (a) it makes for a riveting work of political and cultural history, and (b) it provides a layman's entry point into that most venerable of Western art forms—classical music.I first became acquainted with this book in my late teens. By that time, I'd already immersed myself quite heavily in free jazz, noise, and the like. But classical music—especially the 20th century This isn't something I say lightly, but pretty much everyone should consider reading Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise.* Why? Because (a) it makes for a riveting work of political and cultural history, and (b) it provides a layman's entry point into that most venerable of Western art forms—classical music.I first became acquainted with this book in my late teens. By that time, I'd already immersed myself quite heavily in free jazz, noise, and the like. But classical music—especially the 20th century variety—had thus far eluded my understanding. Like many otherwise adventurous young listeners, I felt overwhelmed by the plethora of composers, performers and recordings to choose from. And in this regard, avant-jazz was—comparatively speaking—pretty straightforward: all you needed to do was track yourself down a copy of Interstellar Space or Free Jazz or Spiritual Unity. With composed music, the problem was knowing where the hell you should even start.Enter The Rest Is Noise. Over the course of fifteen chapters, which trace the development of modern classical from Strauss and Mahler up until the present age, Ross examines the seminal musical works of the 20th century, as well as the social and political contexts that birthed them. It's all terribly fascinating stuff. But history only makes up one side of the coin, and the book concludes with a list of recommended recordings (a more comprehensive list may be found on Ross' website) to guide the inexperienced listener through the disorienting terrain of aural source material.Yet this book doesn't only tell you what to listen to; it also teaches you how to listen. Gifted with an arresting propensity for translating sounds into words, Ross occasionally devotes a few pages to a single piece of music, explaining how a particular snare drum pattern in a Shostakovich symphony, say, might function as a subtle critique of authoritarianism, or how the retrograde rhythms in a Messiaen chamber work serve to hinder the audience's perception of time. And by means of these descriptions, Ross deftly inculcates the art of deep listening, of knowing how to successfully parse a swirling miasma of tones, textures and timbres.In short, The Rest Is Noise is an effective gateway drug into the wild and mystifying world of 20th century classical music. And so I say, "Bravo, bravo!," as I rise for a standing ovation.(P.S. If anyone would like some classical recommendations, shoot me a message and I'd be more than happy to oblige!)* Save for perhaps the illiterate and the hopelessly tone-deaf.
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  • Asclepiade
    January 1, 1970
    Immagino che curiosità e gioia elettrizzassero un amante della musica dei secoli scorsi appena fosse venuto a sapere che per l’imminente carnevale sarebbe comparsa sulle scene la nuova opera di Vivaldi o di Vinci, di Rossini o di Verdi, o che nella tal chiesa Corelli o Tartini avrebbero sonato una nuova composizione per violino; quanto a Frescobaldi o Bach, improvvisavano all’organo praticamente ogni domenica. Se oggi compare su d’un programma di sala un pezzo di musica contemporanea, magari in Immagino che curiosità e gioia elettrizzassero un amante della musica dei secoli scorsi appena fosse venuto a sapere che per l’imminente carnevale sarebbe comparsa sulle scene la nuova opera di Vivaldi o di Vinci, di Rossini o di Verdi, o che nella tal chiesa Corelli o Tartini avrebbero sonato una nuova composizione per violino; quanto a Frescobaldi o Bach, improvvisavano all’organo praticamente ogni domenica. Se oggi compare su d’un programma di sala un pezzo di musica contemporanea, magari in prima esecuzione, la reazione di parecchi frequentatori di sale da concerto è spesso invece: “Oddio, mica durerà troppo?”; e se il brano, poi, o il suo autore sono già noti, l’ascoltarli con pazienza sarà guardata da costoro come onorevole ammenda penitenziale che renderà viepiù bello e amabile il godimento di Brahms, Mozart o Monteverdi. La musica contemporanea, insomma, è vista con timore, con diffidenza: non credo che sia mai capitato in alcun periodo e contesto culturale; anzi, di solito, sia presso i popoli primitivi, sia dove si sono formate una tecnica e un’arte musicale raffinate, ciò che si è sempre ascoltato è la musica del proprio tempo, mentre quella più antica, posto che si sia inventato il modo di tramandarla, è usata in genere a scopo di studio, oppure se ne mantiene in vita qualche scampolo per motivi religiosi o celebrativi.Questo saggio di Alex Ross non solo traccia una storia della musica del Novecento che, sebbene poderosa, è molto agile e di facile lettura, ma aiuta il lettore non specialista – che di fatto è, in genere, proprio quello che non riesce a capire e ad apprezzare la musica novecentesca di tradizione colta – a comprendere perché si sia formata tra compositori e pubblico una barriera foriera d’incomprensioni e incomunicabilità. Dalle pagine di Ross esce peraltro confermata una mia impressione: che cioè mentre molte musiche le quali sonavano sperimentali e rivoluzionarie al momento del debutto, magari anche suscitando scandali, come avvenne a Stravinsky col Sacre, furono poi di seguito accettate dal pubblico, e sono diventate a loro volta pezzi classici come le composizioni di Beethoven o di Haydn, è soltanto qualcuno dei filoni musicali del secolo scorso, entro un mosaico di stili e concezioni ben più ampio e sfaccettato, il vero responsabile della disaffezione e dell’ostilità del pubblico medio verso la musica contemporanea nel suo complesso.Mi viene in mente al proposito il titolo di uno dei paragrafi della biografia di Bach scritta da Alberto Basso: Fra ars e scientia; in troppi musicisti del Novecento s’è fatta troppa scientia e poca o punta ars; anzi, a un certo punto lo scrivere musica comprensibile o che potesse procurare piacere all’ascoltatore fu visto come un esempio di cattivo gusto, di Kitsch, di bieca prostituzione estetica da trattare con esecrazione e scherno. L’intellettualismo petulante di certi musicisti s’è anche sfogato in un’altra direzione un po’ diversa ma parallela, assumendo a mo’ di assioma l’idea che per essere moderno e profondo il compositore debba solo e sempre esprimere il Weltschmerz, la disperazione, il nichilismo, la lacerazione; a dare manforte venivano anche personaggi come Adorno, che io, per il gracchiare monotono, aggrondato e funereo che lo distingue spesso e volentieri, amo definire la zitella dodecafonica: e proprio lui, che adorava tanto Bach, ad ogni pagina dimostra di non capirlo affatto, ché Bach, e nell’Arte della Fuga, seppe scrivere pezzi al contempo di altissima speculazione e di gradevolissimo ascolto; Piero Buscaroli ricordò una volta che il tema del Contrapunctus IX si può tranquillamente fischiettare. La responsabilità di quest’atteggiamento arrogante e autolesionista è di chiara origine tedesca: e della proverbiale Tiefe teutonica rappresenta in effetti la caricatura e il pervertimento: col rischio anche di travolgerne i capofila, a cominciare da Schoenberg, i quali dopotutto scrissero sì musica difficile, ma non radicalmente inascoltabile o respingente.Ross si rivela molto equilibrato, evitando sia l’incensazione acritica delle avanguardie in quanto avanguardistiche, sia l’apocalittica condanna del reazionario secondo cui dopo il tardo romanticismo restano soltanto rovina e brutture: che ciò derivi dal suo pragmatismo americano o da semplici motivi anagrafici (è mio coetaneo, e per noi diventa più facile, rispetto a chi è nato qualche lustro prima, sottrarci al fascino conturbante ma paralizzante della visione storica, diffusa fino un po’ di anni fa, secondo cui fuori dalla Seconda Scuola Viennese e da Darmstadt ci sarebbe il nulla), è un equilibrio che non si loderà mai abbastanza, soprattutto se, come qui, va unito a un’eminente limpidezza espositiva, a una capacità divulgativa davvero coinvolgente, ma scevra da gigionerie o eccessive semplificazioni, e da una finezza di analisi che aiuta davvero a capire opere di grande complessità, magari cogliendovi anche particolari fondamentali di cui non al mero ascolto, se non si è musicisti, non ci si accorge. La conoscenza del Novecento musicale che l’autore dimostra è davvero enciclopedica, quantunque ne resti escluso, tanto per dire, il Novecento italiano, invero poco conosciuto anche in Italia: benché troviamo citati Dallapiccola, Menotti, Berio e Nono, nessuna loro opera è analizzata in modo approfondito come avviene con capolavori di altre scuole; può anche darsi che nel Novecento nostrano di capolavori non ce ne siano affatto, a parte quelli di musicisti, come Puccini, che però con le scuole e le tendenze qui studiate hanno poche attinenze, ma su ciò io non ho elementi per poter giudicare. Piuttosto caotici e carenti mi sembrano viceversa i capitoli finali dell’opera, scritti forse di fretta e con minor ispirazione, per dovere d’ufficio: ma poiché si tratta d’una parte dopotutto esigua nel complesso del saggio, a mio avviso non ne sminuisce la qualità, che resta pur sempre molto elevata. Ross inoltre ama molto l’aneddotica, della quale si serve in maniera saggia e discreta sia per introdurre o rendere palesi collegamenti, contatti ed eventi salienti, sia per vivificare l’esposizione dando anche conto del lato umano dei compositori esaminati, attraverso particolari della loro biografia. Per me ne vengono fuori numerose conferme. Ad esempio, dagli episodî qui rammentati trova conferma la mia impressione che Schoenberg fosse una persona mentalmente disturbata e anche difficilmente frequentabile con piacere: è sempre andato di moda il dare addosso a Richard Strauss per le sue contiguità col nazismo, d’altronde meno costanti e ossequiose rispetto a quelle di tanti suoi colleghi, ma in ogni caso Strauss rispetto a Schoenberg era, nonostante il suo egotismo, un mostro di simpatia; l’inventore della dodecafonia era paranoico, acrimonioso, saccente, malevolo, in guerra eterna col mondo e con gli uomini, perennemente travolto da un’altissima opinione di sé al limite, e a volte anche oltre il limite del caricaturale: come attesta un piccolo carteggio edito anni fa anche in Italia, riuscì a trascinare un riluttante Thomas Mann in una guerra inutilmente assurda, trattandolo da miserevole plagiario per avere indicato l’Adrian Leverkühn del Doctor Faustus quale inventore d’una tecnica musicale praticamente uguale alla dodecafonia (e non mi tolgo dalla testa che, come certi particolari della storia sembrano attestare, a soffiare sul fuoco intervenisse anche Alma Werfel vedova Mahler, che col marito viveva in esilio a Los Angeles vicino ai Mann e a Schoenberg), ed è solo una delle diverse storie tristemente ridicole che si possono riferire su tanto personaggio. Altro modello di antipatia difficilmente superabile, Pierre Boulez: ma mentre Schoenberg peggiorava con l’età, Boulez diede il peggio di sé, per settarismo e intemperanze intellettuali, negli anni giovanili; un secolo prima, gli sarebbero fioccate addosso le sfide a duello. Eppure non tutti i rivoluzionarî furono così bellicosi: John Cage sarà pure stato un provocatore nella musica, ma di persona doveva essere un simpatico zuzzurellone; in Italia divenne perfino concorrente di Lascia o raddoppia?, gareggiando come esperto di funghi, ma di ciò mi sembra che Ross non parli. Peraltro Alex Ross non si limita a raccontare particolari bizzarri o curiosi: traccia, per esempio, anche un ritratto molto bello e sensibile d’un musicista dall’animo delicato e umbratile come Benjamin Britten. In quanto americano, naturalmente Ross è particolarmente interessato ai compositori della sua terra, e ciò per un lettore italiano è forse ancor più prezioso che per uno d’oltreoceano, perché gran parte dei maestri statunitensi dalle nostre parti sono conosciuti più di nome che di fatto. Insomma, un saggio poderoso ma scorrevolissimo, pieno di dati senza esser opprimente, vivace senza scadere nell’approssimazione, e sorretto da un equilibrio esemplare nel metodo e nel giudizio storico. Credo che per una disamina panoramica, ma tutt’altro che cursoria e superficiale, della musica novecentesca, non si possa pretendere di meglio.
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  • Gary
    January 1, 1970
    alex ross is one of the few remaining music critics for a major american periodical (there used to be many more, but it's a dwindling profession/art), in his case, the new yorker. he attends a concert more than once if possible, with the score and without, in order to both understand the music and feel it. and he's young, so his ears aren't burdened with decades of ear wax, "received wisdom," archaic prejudice, etc.how rare is it to ever find anyone who can write about music!? (an impossible cha alex ross is one of the few remaining music critics for a major american periodical (there used to be many more, but it's a dwindling profession/art), in his case, the new yorker. he attends a concert more than once if possible, with the score and without, in order to both understand the music and feel it. and he's young, so his ears aren't burdened with decades of ear wax, "received wisdom," archaic prejudice, etc.how rare is it to ever find anyone who can write about music!? (an impossible challenge on the face of it, if one is going to say anything more than technical data like, "... the dotted sixteenths in bar25 mirror the attenuated chromatic intonation ..." etc etc)his grasp of the material is sure; his writing is tonic, refreshing; his insights are sharp; his tone, fresh. he's on the dime.he's been working on this book for some time and finally it's out. (there are a few inevitable repetitions here and there, in stitching the whole thing together, but — hey!)hands-down, THE best book on 20th-century Western music you'll ever find in THIS one.AND you can enhance your reading by visiting his website, where he's posted representative selections, for each chapter, as well as his always lively bloghear, here!
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    This is a comprehensive overview of Western music in the twentieth century. I was lucky enough to live in Los Angeles in the last decade when Disney Hall opened, so I heard music by many of these composers played by both the full orchestra and by smaller groups in the Green Umbrella series. Plus there was Jacaranda in Santa Monica. Those two sources taught me to appreciate modern music, so I read this with much more experience and curiosity than I would have had fifteen years ago.But the operati This is a comprehensive overview of Western music in the twentieth century. I was lucky enough to live in Los Angeles in the last decade when Disney Hall opened, so I heard music by many of these composers played by both the full orchestra and by smaller groups in the Green Umbrella series. Plus there was Jacaranda in Santa Monica. Those two sources taught me to appreciate modern music, so I read this with much more experience and curiosity than I would have had fifteen years ago.But the operative word is ‘read’. In fact I listened to an audiobook, but it wasn’t much different than reading the book. What a lost opportunity--there were no interspersed audio examples of what Ross was writing about. I have heard perhaps 5 percent of the music he describes. I am not a musician, so I was unable to ‘hear’ in my head most of the pieces he describes with substantial verbal ’notation’. I suppose the problem was one of getting rights to that many recordings, but even one example for the major composers would have helped, especially for the last half of the century.You can go to Ross’s website to get audio samples, which is an essential service if you’re reading the book, but it does seem as if integrating them into the audiobook woudl have been a no-brainer.Tony has also done a wonderful service in assembling some websites to compensate for this lack; see his review athttps://www.goodreads.com/review/show...Part of the reason I enjoyed the book so much is that Ross’s own music preferences are on display, and they are very similar my own, excepting Britten. He is acidic on Pierre Boulez’s despotic rule in mid-Century, in particular on his devastating dismissal of earlier innovators like Sibelius. So one notes with a different attitude than before the tributes to Boulez in Sunday’s New York Times (and in fact, some of the ‘tributes’ are given with qualifications) and this years focus on Boulez in Berlin’s Festtage festival. He’s also a bit dismissive of Glass; I do like his Satyagraha nevertheless.The book is written clearly, for readers of varying musical knowledge. I took two or three years of music lessons, and was able to follow a little of the discussion, but even a complete novice can follow much of the ‘plot’: the various developmental strands of composing schools as well as episodes featuring the full renegades like Henry Cowell. There are plenty of anecdotes to hold one’s interest. For someone with more musical knowledge there is plenty of information about the evolution of the Vienna School and the American avant garde as they invented more and more abstruse systems until the whole thing collapsed. Now we have Salonen and Ades and Adams and Saariiaho and Golijov (loved the Mass from the first moment I heard it years ago) and dozens more going off in all directions. What a cornucopia of ’noise'!
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  • Alex
    January 1, 1970
    Ross, whose articles in the New Yorker I have followed religiously for years, and continue to anticipate with a zeal otherwise reserved for The Wire, delivers a multi-layered and exhaustively researched portrait of a century's music and its reception. His account includes not only a collection of nuanced miniature biographies of composers—both the duly celebrated and the tragically neglected—and sweeping, intertextual analyses of "the music"—from jazz rags and pop songs to symphonic masterworks— Ross, whose articles in the New Yorker I have followed religiously for years, and continue to anticipate with a zeal otherwise reserved for The Wire, delivers a multi-layered and exhaustively researched portrait of a century's music and its reception. His account includes not only a collection of nuanced miniature biographies of composers—both the duly celebrated and the tragically neglected—and sweeping, intertextual analyses of "the music"—from jazz rags and pop songs to symphonic masterworks—but a breathtaking synthesis of how the twentieth century world produced the music it did, and how the world was refracted and recasted through its lens.One of the more amusing of his many distillations is his pitting of the twin modernist conceits against one another—on the one hand welcoming the "ragtag masses" with goofy fanfares, sentimental tunes and light operas, while on the other, consecrating an utterly abstruse aesthetic language accessible only to a select group of sophisticates.Like a great satirist, Ross is especially keen at revealing the ironic similarities between otherwise opposing spheres. "The cultish fanaticism of modern art turns out to be not unrelated to the politics of fascism," he writes: "both attempt to remake the world in utopian forms."Indeed, The Rest is Noise evinces many of the attributes of a novel—lucid prose, richly drawn characters, illuminating convergences between internal worlds and external events—yet firmly tethered to historical truth. It's a rare thing to be so spellbound by a work of non-fiction.
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  • Tosh
    January 1, 1970
    Alex Ross' wonderful trip to the 20th Century via the world of classical music and it's composers. As I mentioned I had very little knowledge of classical music - especially modern. I knew Glass, Reich, Satie, but overall this is pretty much a new world music wise.Saying that this is also the history of cultural life in the 20th Century. The best chapeters deal with Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia and how they used music -and how it affected the composers of that place and time.In a distant way Alex Ross' wonderful trip to the 20th Century via the world of classical music and it's composers. As I mentioned I had very little knowledge of classical music - especially modern. I knew Glass, Reich, Satie, but overall this is pretty much a new world music wise.Saying that this is also the history of cultural life in the 20th Century. The best chapeters deal with Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia and how they used music -and how it affected the composers of that place and time.In a distant way the book reminds me of "The City of Nets" in that there are many stories being told - because some of them are real characters - but also for me there were some dry areas. Not sure because of the text or the writer's focus, or maybe it's just the subject matter. But overall I think this book is pretty essential in not only music history but also how music interacts with society/culture of that time. Ross is really good at giving the big picture.
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  • Lobstergirl
    January 1, 1970
    Ross weaves biography, history, and musical description into a pleasing synthesis, in accessible nonacademic language. He does for 20th century classical music what Niall Ferguson did for the British Empire, in Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World. Both authors are terrific storytellers.Among the interesting subplots are the relationships (at times close, friendly, grudgingly respectful, rivalrous, prickly, or downright hostile) between various composer pairs: Strauss and Mahler, Prokofiev Ross weaves biography, history, and musical description into a pleasing synthesis, in accessible nonacademic language. He does for 20th century classical music what Niall Ferguson did for the British Empire, in Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World. Both authors are terrific storytellers.Among the interesting subplots are the relationships (at times close, friendly, grudgingly respectful, rivalrous, prickly, or downright hostile) between various composer pairs: Strauss and Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Britten and Shostakovich, Messiaen and Boulez, Boulez and Cage, Stravinsky and Boulez. (Boulez comes across as the asshole of the book.) After Mahler's death, Strauss said that "Mahler had been his 'antipode,' his worthy adversary." A colleague once heard this exchange between Prokofiev and Shostakovich:Prokofiev: You know, I'm really going to get down to work on my Sixth Symphony. I've written the first movement...and now I'm writing the second, with three themes: the third movement will probably be in sonata form. I feel the need to compensate for the absence of sonata form in the previous movements.Shostakovich: So, is the weather here always like this?Schoenberg and Stravinsky, "the twin giants of modernism" and exiles of Europe, lived eight miles apart in Los Angeles, yet apparently never met or spoke. (This fascinating expatriate L.A. community also included Rachmaninov, conductors Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, Alma Mahler and Franz Werfel, and writers Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley.) It was only after Schoenberg's death that Stravinsky began to investigate twelve-tone composition for himself; he had been "deeply moved" after seeing Schoenberg's death mask at a dinner at Alma Werfel's house.Messiaen was one of the few deeply religious modern composers. "Fellow composers would sometimes drop by Holy Trinity [in Paris] to find out what kind of music Messiaen played for the parishioners on an ordinary Sunday. Aaron Copland wrote in his 1949 diary: "Visited Messiaen in the organ loft at the Trinité. Heard him improvise at noon. Everything from the 'devil' in the bass, to Radio City Music Hall harmonies in the treble. Why the Church allows it during service is a mystery."
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  • Martina
    January 1, 1970
    I could never make sense of 20th century classical music, especially the stuff from 50's and on. Whenever I picked a random piece, I felt it was hermetically closed in itself, as if created only for the composer's own pleasure, so I often felt I needed some kind of special initiation into this music that I could never obtain. But since there were a few exceptions (most notably Arvo Pärt), I didn't want to give up on it. Then I found out that this book existed.It took a few weeks, a few breaks, a I could never make sense of 20th century classical music, especially the stuff from 50's and on. Whenever I picked a random piece, I felt it was hermetically closed in itself, as if created only for the composer's own pleasure, so I often felt I needed some kind of special initiation into this music that I could never obtain. But since there were a few exceptions (most notably Arvo Pärt), I didn't want to give up on it. Then I found out that this book existed.It took a few weeks, a few breaks, a few mental shocks that felt like overdose on information and a few forced returns, but I'm finished with it. Or am I?Alex Ross is an impeccably thorough critic who decided to look at 20th century classical music in light of historical events, manifestos, policies, ideologies and technological advances. Although the musical life is still messy, the realia serve as a key to understanding of various sub-genres that emerged as reactions to historical events, distastes for certain composers's approaches or struggles in people's personal lives. That way even Ligeti started to make sense to me. Also, I particularly enjoyed how Ross highlights the links between classical and jazz, world music, rock, electronic music, mainstream pop, etc.. He manages to convincingly show how classical is still relevant in current musical landscape, informing other genres (even unknowingly), borrowing from them as well and transforming itself into something that could not have been foreseen in any way before the world wars.While it seemed to me at at times I was fighting this thick study, in the end I realize that I absolutely loved it. Ross is brilliant when it comes to lively descriptions of compositions, their sound and technical parameters, but he is definitely not patronizing. The book is a sensitively compiled, though not too exhaustive, guide into 20th century pluralism, which leaves the reader free to search through this vast field alone with confidence. In addition, it comes with a link handy resource of online database of excerpts of every major work Ross discusses on its pages, including additional information and free music databases.All things considered, I think this is a book to have on your shelf for revisiting as you listen through the 20th century at your own pace and according to your own preferences. Quite a nifty achievement.
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  • Michael Finocchiaro
    January 1, 1970
    Who says history is boring? And who says classical music died with Wagner? Well I have actually always liked history but was largely unfamiliar with 20c classical music until I read Ross' excellent The Rest is Noise. Alex Ross does an amazing job of writing the history of the 20c in classical music starting at the waning but overwhelming influence of Wagner on early 20c composers like Schoenberg and Stravinsky through the onset of atonal music and on through the wars and the crazy 60's. I had NO Who says history is boring? And who says classical music died with Wagner? Well I have actually always liked history but was largely unfamiliar with 20c classical music until I read Ross' excellent The Rest is Noise. Alex Ross does an amazing job of writing the history of the 20c in classical music starting at the waning but overwhelming influence of Wagner on early 20c composers like Schoenberg and Stravinsky through the onset of atonal music and on through the wars and the crazy 60's. I had NO idea that classical music was so incredibly rich and interesting particularly in the previous century. I don't want to spoil anything here because it is incredibly readable and you will learn on nearly every page. I am still trying to get through all the recordings that he posted on his book's website (http://www.therestisnoise.com) which could serve as a fore-taste of how great this book is. Don't walk but run to amazon and grab a copy. I liked it so much that I bought the sequel Listen to This...happy reading.
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  • Tom Choi
    January 1, 1970
    This is a tremendous work which dares to tell the great history of music in the 20th Century. But in that it aims so high, it also falls short of its promise.There are some great "stories" that are recounted here, in particular, the portions concerning the premiere of Strauss' "Salome"; and the spirited rivalry between Strauss and Mahler; the unlikely journeys of Schoenberg and Shostakovich in the New World; and the drama surrounding Messiaen's "Quartet". With these stories, Alex Ross demonstrat This is a tremendous work which dares to tell the great history of music in the 20th Century. But in that it aims so high, it also falls short of its promise.There are some great "stories" that are recounted here, in particular, the portions concerning the premiere of Strauss' "Salome"; and the spirited rivalry between Strauss and Mahler; the unlikely journeys of Schoenberg and Shostakovich in the New World; and the drama surrounding Messiaen's "Quartet". With these stories, Alex Ross demonstrates his great talent for storytelling: detailed, sympathetic and well-paced. These stories seem to mirror the great drama within music and in the world that surrounds it.But after the great upheaval of the Second World War, the book unravels just as a linear history of the classical tradition unravels into new strands, clashing philosophies and influences. Thus, as we reach closer to our present, the book loses momentum and we are faced with a catalog of names, works and brief summaries. You can't fault the author for the ending (this is what happened to classical music) but the lack of focus and coherent narrative was a disappointment.What's missing is a substantial discussion of "social music" and how it's transformation into "popular music" created new possibilities and conflicts, as well as a tense dialogue, with the "classical" tradition. Classical music loses shape and also its audience because the world changes. I'm looking forward to Alex Ross' next work as well as his next piece for the New Yorker.
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  • Joe
    January 1, 1970
    I began this book almost wholly ignorant of most of its central figures. I knew that "twelve-tone music" was something controversial and supposedly inaccessible, but I didn't know what it was or if I'd ever heard any. So there may be major composers skipped, controversies skirted, opinions presented as fact; I probably wouldn't know.What I do know is that Alex Ross is a wonderfully passionate music writer, and he did a great job tying the history of 20th century music into the cultures it came f I began this book almost wholly ignorant of most of its central figures. I knew that "twelve-tone music" was something controversial and supposedly inaccessible, but I didn't know what it was or if I'd ever heard any. So there may be major composers skipped, controversies skirted, opinions presented as fact; I probably wouldn't know.What I do know is that Alex Ross is a wonderfully passionate music writer, and he did a great job tying the history of 20th century music into the cultures it came from without making it seem like the composers were an inevitable result of the culture. I was inspired to check out a great many pieces by this book, and also given some context to keep in mind while listening. (Sometimes I can hear a piece without context and feel it immediately, but much more often it helps to have hints about where it comes from to direct my ear...)My favorite thing about this book is that Ross comes off as a music lover with critical thinking abilities, not a critic. He's never cynical, he takes no joy in tearing others down, he has respect for the power and influence of music he personally doesn't like, and he can articulate his moments of transcendence in ways that make you want to experience them yourself.
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  • Bob King
    January 1, 1970
    I heard many positive comments on this book, and being a lover of contemporary classical music, finally picked up a used copy. What's unique about the writing is that Ross mixes in just the right amount of historical context to the lively music scene of the past hundred years. You get into the heads of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Strauss and Copland -- just to name a few -- and come to understand that their musical styles were tightly woven into the politics of the time. Schoenberg and his students I heard many positive comments on this book, and being a lover of contemporary classical music, finally picked up a used copy. What's unique about the writing is that Ross mixes in just the right amount of historical context to the lively music scene of the past hundred years. You get into the heads of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Strauss and Copland -- just to name a few -- and come to understand that their musical styles were tightly woven into the politics of the time. Schoenberg and his students totally broke with the traditions of tonality in reaction to the decadent 19th century museum culture that romantic classical music had become. We learn about the influence of jazz on classical music (Stravinsky and Copland loved it, and you'll hear shades of jazz in a number of their works.), how Aaron Copland's leftist political stance helped lead him to develop his populist, American style of music, John Cage and his introduction of chance elements to music composition, electronic music and minimalism's return to tonality and "easy listening" after the thorny paths of 12-tone composition. The author's descriptions of various pieces of music are wonderful. My only criticism is how much time he spends explaining various parts of operas. Maybe that's because I don't care much for opera. As you read the book, you'll want to listen to many of the pieces, which are described so enticingly. I found my CD collection growing throughout. Some of the greatest discoveries for me were the music of Alban Berg and Anton Webern, pupils of Arnold Schoenberg, and Sibelius' 5th Symphony. Webern's "funeral march" in his Six Pieces for Large Orchestra is one of the most frightening five minutes of music I've ever heard. The other movements around it show off amazing and unusual orchestral color you've never dreamed of hearing. Then there's the joyful main theme of Sibelius' 5th symphony that just takes your heart away. If nothing else, Ross's book introduced me to some of the finest music I've ever heard.
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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    This is hands down the best book I have read about music. Alex Ross writes about composers, their relationship with each other, and how they survive the culture swirling around them, in a way that really captured me, and I work with music for a living. It took me a long time to read because I felt obligated to listen to all the pieces he referenced. Worth reading no matter how familiar you are with classical music. It is practically a history of the 20th century shown through the music of its cl This is hands down the best book I have read about music. Alex Ross writes about composers, their relationship with each other, and how they survive the culture swirling around them, in a way that really captured me, and I work with music for a living. It took me a long time to read because I felt obligated to listen to all the pieces he referenced. Worth reading no matter how familiar you are with classical music. It is practically a history of the 20th century shown through the music of its classical composers."The fabric of harmony was warping, as if under the influence of an unseen force." - about Liszt"A fenced-off soul is opening itself to the chaos of the outer world." - Bartok"I don't believe I will ever experience a more profound and stranger emotion than this sort of mute terror." - Ravel"The birth of art will take place [when:] the last man who is willing to make a living out of art is gone forever." - Charles Ives"I don't feel I've really scratched the surface of what I want to do." - Gershwin, spoken to his sister shortly before his sudden death in 1937"You know you should go to the conservatory, but since you won't, I'll tell you. First you find the logical way, and when you find it, avoid it, and let your inner self break through and guide you. Don't try to be anybody else but yourself." - Cook to Ellington, at the beginning of his career"I can't listen to music too often. It affects your nerves, makes you want to say stupid nice things, and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell." - Lenin"A score is a child of loneliness that feeds off crowds.""I believe that music should be collective hysteria and spells, violently of the present time." - Pierre Boulez"Composition only gains power from failing to decide the eternal dispute. In a decentered culture, it has a chance to play a kind of godfather role, able to assimilate anything new because it has assimilated everything in the past."
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  • David M
    January 1, 1970
    I myself know very little about music, but I do like to listen to it. I like to listen to it, and I find the xxth century debates over tonality fascinating. Ross unsurprisingly takes the liberal, ecumenical point of view (he does write for the New Yorker after all); I myself want to be able appreciate a wide variety of different kinds of art, and to my untrained ear it's not obvious why Schoenberg should represent revolution and Stravinsky reaction. Nonetheless, part of me can't help admiring th I myself know very little about music, but I do like to listen to it. I like to listen to it, and I find the xxth century debates over tonality fascinating. Ross unsurprisingly takes the liberal, ecumenical point of view (he does write for the New Yorker after all); I myself want to be able appreciate a wide variety of different kinds of art, and to my untrained ear it's not obvious why Schoenberg should represent revolution and Stravinsky reaction. Nonetheless, part of me can't help admiring the utopian spirit of modernism at its most intolerant. Ross certainly gives plenty of fodder for not liking terrorist intellectuals like Adrono and the young Boulez. At times his recipe of tolerance-as-an-end-in-itself seems a little facile. Yet overall I found this book wonderful, both for providing an introductory playlist and for delineating some of the conflicts artists last century had to face.
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  • Pia
    January 1, 1970
    I'm gobbling this up. I grew up with musician parents but we never talked about music. So Alex Ross feels like the family I always wanted. My copy's studded with 3M markers and I've been on a Mahler binge since I started reading this. I want to hear every piece he mentions, which will keep me busy and happy and moved for the rest of the year. The writing's accessible, generous, and the vivid lives of the composers he discusses make for better reading than People Magazine.
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  • Rudy
    January 1, 1970
    How do you even write about music? During most of my reading I turn all forms of melodious interferences off. For the most part, I did the same with this book. Sometimes if Ross discussed a piece at length, I'd look it up online and give it a listen on the side. But for the most part, Ross describes the music in such a succinct way. Talking vividly of the specific chords, melodies and instrumentation used and how even the tiniest changes in the pieces reflected the composer's world, personality How do you even write about music? During most of my reading I turn all forms of melodious interferences off. For the most part, I did the same with this book. Sometimes if Ross discussed a piece at length, I'd look it up online and give it a listen on the side. But for the most part, Ross describes the music in such a succinct way. Talking vividly of the specific chords, melodies and instrumentation used and how even the tiniest changes in the pieces reflected the composer's world, personality and ideology. You can imagine the music while you read through the book, and for the most part, when I'd play it later on, my imagined version of the piece would never be too far off from the real one. The whole book is halfway through a music book and a history book. Nothing is apolitical in this book, and the music and composers described had always found themselves in different relationships with their patronizers and society at large. The book raises interesting questions regarding societies' relationship with art. What it's use is for, what transformative effects it has, what meaning it has, etcetera etcetera. Highly recommended to anyone who can read.
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  • Barnaby Thieme
    January 1, 1970
    This ambitious, thrilling guide to notational music in the twentieth century admirably succeeds in its many goals. Alex Ross, recent recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, is an accomplished music critic of the New Yorker. He maintains one of the most readable blogs on the internet: http://www.therestisniose.com. In this his first book Ross traces the development of music from Strauss's epoch-inaugurating "Salome" through to the work of John Adams, considering modernism, jazz, neo-classicism, This ambitious, thrilling guide to notational music in the twentieth century admirably succeeds in its many goals. Alex Ross, recent recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, is an accomplished music critic of the New Yorker. He maintains one of the most readable blogs on the internet: http://www.therestisniose.com. In this his first book Ross traces the development of music from Strauss's epoch-inaugurating "Salome" through to the work of John Adams, considering modernism, jazz, neo-classicism, the avant-garde, serialism, experimental music, and minimalism along the way. Special attention is payed to Sibelius, Schoenberg, Britten, Shostakovich, Cage, Reich, and Adams, but no relevant composer goes un-noted. Ross considers nearly every figure I could name, from the infamous (Stravinsky, Ellington) to the obscure (Kagel, Adès ... even Einstuerzende Neubauten gets a mention). "The Rest is Noise" is a vivid and extraordinarily entertaining retrospective look at the century. Music becomes a template for considering the great social, historical, and psychological currents that defined the period. One of many examples: the fury and sorrow this reader felt learning of the debasement of Shostakovich by petty Soviet bureaucrats gives way to a deeply disquieting sense of unease when Aaron Copland received nearly identical at the hands of the McCarthy subcommittee. I hoped this book would provide a context for understanding the more bewildering forms of music the last century produced, and it surpassed my high expectations. It does not require a degree in music theory to follow the evolution of chromaticism from Strauss to Stravinsky to Bartok to Schoenberg -- one needs only ears, a half-dozen CDs, and willingness to go on the journey. The rewards are many and profound. This book is written for the layperson. It contains no musical notation at all, and very little close analysis. Ross's judicious and restrained use of technical terminology is carefully explained. A basic knowledge of the rudiments of theory and some of the broad threads of the history of notational music probably enhance reading this book. Other than that mild disclaimer, I heartily recommend it to anyone with interest in the subject matter.
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  • Nick Black
    January 1, 1970
    Amazon 2008-05-21, recommendation from aldaily.com.The second-best book I've read this year, following After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empires Since 1450. When I returned to Georgia Tech, I loaded up both the offered "History of Composers" classes, cleaved at the 1800 point and running through 1900 + a generous spoonful of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern and Bern. Alex Ross has elegantly and authoritatively consummated that incomplete education, with all the verbal pana Amazon 2008-05-21, recommendation from aldaily.com.The second-best book I've read this year, following After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empires Since 1450. When I returned to Georgia Tech, I loaded up both the offered "History of Composers" classes, cleaved at the 1800 point and running through 1900 + a generous spoonful of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern and Bern. Alex Ross has elegantly and authoritatively consummated that incomplete education, with all the verbal panache and fluidity one would expect from the New Yorker's primary music critic (a Harvard grad whose English thesis concerned James Joyce). Opening in Germany's classical heartland and following the action around Central and Northern Europe allegretto grazioso, Part I introduces the "Founding Fathers" of modernism (their ineluctable influence and enormous visages are backdrops for all of the 20th century) -- the conflicted Mahler, the melancholy Stravinsky, the bemitleidenswert Strauss. The Rite's syncopations and Serialism's atonalities have set the scene for World War II and Part II's broad coverage of that war's music, including the moving story of Shostakovich's Leningrad symphony (the 7th; Stalingrad is the 8th) and Operation Squall (as more completely related by Anthony Beevor). Part III is a rich cacophony of names, styles and new directions; dozens of modernists are detailed, of which I knew only Cage with any familiarity.Any good book will unfold in a great fractal across one's life, a root node expanding with n-ary references and them their own n. Likewise with the music of The Rest is Noise, I must now go procure and hear numerous scores of this last century, and from them move on to other pieces yet unknown. Thanks for the music, Mr. Ross.
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  • Nichelle Crocker
    January 1, 1970
    I went nuts listening to music, and I’m just getting warmed up. That was my reason for reading The Rest Is Noise. I was already a big fan of 20th century classical music and I wanted a jumping-off place for more listening. I’ll lead off my review with the evidence of my mania, my listening list. It’s crazytown, but maybe other people will get some value out of it.https://trello.com/b/zJGjzvf0/20th-ce...The book does supply a listening list designed for sane people, so if you’re not an insatiable I went nuts listening to music, and I’m just getting warmed up. That was my reason for reading The Rest Is Noise. I was already a big fan of 20th century classical music and I wanted a jumping-off place for more listening. I’ll lead off my review with the evidence of my mania, my listening list. It’s crazytown, but maybe other people will get some value out of it.https://trello.com/b/zJGjzvf0/20th-ce...The book does supply a listening list designed for sane people, so if you’re not an insatiable lunatic weirdo like me, I’d recommend that as well as the accompanying material on his website http://www.therestisnoise.com/The Rest Is Noise appealed to me because I came in with a specific goal, some music background, and an existing familiarity with some of this music. Ross states in the preface that he wants the book to appeal to people with a passing curiosity about this subject but that seems like a lot to ask. The real treat for me was finding out where I was wrong about things I thought I knew (including, to some extent, my preferences) and I suppose I should feel some embarrassment about that, but it only made me excited to discover more. I feel a bit like I did when I was a college student pulling records at random during my late night music library shifts, listening to baroque trumpet or prepared piano or Prokofiev or Mingus or Peter Maxwell Davies, whatever my finger landed on that day. Love love love.
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  • Brooke Shirts
    January 1, 1970
    Alex Ross is, in my opinion, one of the better writers for The New Yorker. This history of 20th-century art music is quite a feat: how to make some of the world's most difficult music accessible and understandable to the average music fan? Really, even though Ross' ability to describe the music and explain its placement and importance in history is stellar, I was frustrated with my unfamiliarity with some of the pieces he describes. Here's a sample, from a description of Schoenberg:"The music ha Alex Ross is, in my opinion, one of the better writers for The New Yorker. This history of 20th-century art music is quite a feat: how to make some of the world's most difficult music accessible and understandable to the average music fan? Really, even though Ross' ability to describe the music and explain its placement and importance in history is stellar, I was frustrated with my unfamiliarity with some of the pieces he describes. Here's a sample, from a description of Schoenberg:"The music hangs by only the thinnest thread to the old harmonic order. It purports to be in B minor, yet the home chord appears only three times in thirty measures, once beneath the word 'agnonizing.' Otherwise, it is made up of a ghostly flow of unrooted triads, ambiguous transitional chords, stark dissonances, and crystalline monodic lines, approximating the picture of an 'ice-cold, deep-sleeping stream' . . . "You can see from this how eloquent Ross is -- but how frustrating it is to read this without a stack of CDs by my side! Really, I don't feel as if I can do the book justice without raiding the classical music shelves at the local library, or spending a big bundle at iTunes. This isn't a book, it's a project. We'll see how far I can get before the book is due back . . .
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  • GloriaGloom
    January 1, 1970
    Ma che tomo bello e prezioso questa sorta di Guerra e Pace delle musiche del novecento. Il talentuoso critico musicale del New Yorker, lasciando da parte qualunque intento sistematico e avanzando piuttosto per vasi comunicanti, assonanze(dissonanze) tira su, con semplice e fluida lingua da romanziere di razza, un luminoso e illuminante albero delle musiche del novecento, affollatissimo di personaggi, paesaggi, storie, utopie, teorie, guerre, ideologie, miserie, chiacchiere, da Strauss ai Velvet Ma che tomo bello e prezioso questa sorta di Guerra e Pace delle musiche del novecento. Il talentuoso critico musicale del New Yorker, lasciando da parte qualunque intento sistematico e avanzando piuttosto per vasi comunicanti, assonanze(dissonanze) tira su, con semplice e fluida lingua da romanziere di razza, un luminoso e illuminante albero delle musiche del novecento, affollatissimo di personaggi, paesaggi, storie, utopie, teorie, guerre, ideologie, miserie, chiacchiere, da Strauss ai Velvet Underground in un solo, lunghissimo, appetitoso boccone. Qualche pecca, a volerla cercare col lumicino, è la traduzione italiana del titolo dove si perde la valenza doppia del "noise", e, questo sì affronto imperdonabile, la mancanza, almeno nell' edizione in mio possesso, di un indice analitico che in tomi labirintici di tale fatta è il minimo sindicale.
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  • Vrixton Phillips
    January 1, 1970
    Word to the wise, this book is not for someone who knows little to nothing of 20th Century classical music. It also helps if you have some music theory under your belt, because Ross often delves into musical play-by-play [which is a good reminder if you've heard a piece before, but lost on someone who hasn't yet.] It's more like a book for a 20th century music lover who wants to learn why or how certain movements popped up, such as dodecaphonalism or minimalism.It does contain enjoyable tales of Word to the wise, this book is not for someone who knows little to nothing of 20th Century classical music. It also helps if you have some music theory under your belt, because Ross often delves into musical play-by-play [which is a good reminder if you've heard a piece before, but lost on someone who hasn't yet.] It's more like a book for a 20th century music lover who wants to learn why or how certain movements popped up, such as dodecaphonalism or minimalism.It does contain enjoyable tales of many a succes de scandale, composer feuds, and causal mentions of who's gay [which is of personal interest haha; who knew Copland was gay? News to me.] And it also makes for a great 'to listen' list for music lovers.I myself have a great deal of Britten to listen to.
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  • Brett
    January 1, 1970
    The two basic claims of this book are blatant lies: the first being that music is the only 20th century art form that hasn't been embraced and the second that this book is aimed at people with only a passing interest in classical music. Just because Jackson Pollock paintings sell for millions doesn't mean most people don't think they're crap. Similarly, there are plenty of 20th century compositions that are in the repertoire. And seriously, this book is clearly aimed at music snobs. It also suff The two basic claims of this book are blatant lies: the first being that music is the only 20th century art form that hasn't been embraced and the second that this book is aimed at people with only a passing interest in classical music. Just because Jackson Pollock paintings sell for millions doesn't mean most people don't think they're crap. Similarly, there are plenty of 20th century compositions that are in the repertoire. And seriously, this book is clearly aimed at music snobs. It also suffers from being the wrong medium to seriously understand music. The phrase "dancing about architecture" comes to mind.
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  • Bruce
    January 1, 1970
    It is a brilliant cultural history of 20th century classical music. A real tour de force. I could nit-pick at the details, but Ross managed to create a compelling narrative out of a fractured century of disparate musical styles and trends. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in 20th century classical music. Rarely does one encounter a music critic who is as exceptionally musically sensitive as this, and who is also such a fine writer. Bravo, Mr. Ross, bravo!
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  • Niall
    January 1, 1970
    One of the most compelling books I've ever read and this is coming from a guy who has actively listened to barely any classical music and spends most of his time alternating between Yo La Tengo's squalling guitar solos and Ice Cube's hostile credos. The book is such a thorough look at art and the cultural history of the 20th century that I believe after having finished it I will become not only a more attentive listener but also a more careful reader and film-watcher.
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