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Rest is Noise, The: Listening to the Twentieth Century Hardcover – 16 Oct 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux; 1ST edition (16 Oct. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374249393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374249397
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.7 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 480,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alex Ross has been the music critic of the 'New Yorker' since 1996. From 1992 to 1996 he wrote for the 'New York Times'. His first book, 'The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century', published in 2007, was awarded the Guardian First Book Award and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer and Samuel Johnson prizes. In 2008 he became a MacArthur Fellow. A native of Washington, DC, he now lives in Manhattan.

Product Description


‘Alex Ross's incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyone's fire for music.’ Björk

‘One of the best living writers about rock .’ Steven Poole, Guardian ‘Picks for 2008’

‘A superb and inclusive account by a champion of modern music.’ Sunday Times

'Puts the history back into music and the music back into history. Alex Ross's brave avoidance of musical notation and brilliant use of metaphorical and descriptive language, means that The Rest is Noise grapples with the actual stuff of music as few other books have done. And if you want to hear the sounds themselves, you can always go to his website at and listen.' TLS

'Print is silent. Which is why the task of writing about music is so difficult. I should therefore probably explain that the noise you now ought to be hearing is the sound of my hands as they stop typing and start applauding this vital, engaging, happily polyphonic book.' Peter Conrad, Observer

‘This is a long book and a slow read: slow not because it is especially difficult, but because it is full of material you really need to savour. It is the superb selection of image and anecdote that makes this book work so well. Best of all are the moments when Ross really strikes you dumb with wonder, moments when the author's passion for the supreme significance of music raises his erudition to a new level. Warm, joyful and unfailingly adroit in his evocation of music in words – Ross, with this book, establishes himself as the supreme champion of modern music. Read this and listen.’ Sunday Times

'Ross will whisk you on to the fast–moving train that was 20th–century music; he will fascinate, challenge and delight you, but above all he will never, ever patronise you.' Stephen Pritchard, Observer Music Monthly

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on 23 July 2010
Format: Paperback
If someone told you "Hey, I've got a great beach book for you, it's about 20th century classical music!" you would no doubt think they were pulling your leg. But that's what we have here, quite an accomplishment by Alex Ross, the music writer for The New Yorker. Ross's breezy combination of biography, social history and musical analysis makes the 543 pages fly by. I noticed at least one reviewer complain that Ross uses too many big words -- now there's someone who should stick to Dr. Seuss. The typical book on this topic is, indeed, dense and difficult to read, but Ross is a journalist and his practiced writing style is very reader-friendly. The opposite criticism, that THE REST IS NOISE is too shallow, is, I believe, misplaced. There are plenty of other books that go deeper into music theory and the avant-garde than Ross -- Morgan's Twentieth-Century Music is still essential -- but they are not going to reach as big an audience. I am quite glad that Ross has written this book, mainly because I am confident that it is going to expand the audience for modern and contemporary classical music.

Anyone who listens to a lot of 20th century classical music, as I do, is going to disagree with some of Ross's emphases and find omissions. One book cannot do justice to a century worth of music. Most of my disagreements, some of which I will outline, fall in the category of legitimate differences of aesthetic opinion. I would write a different book, but I haven't written it yet! But there is one bias of Ross's that I think he should have checked at the door, hence the four stars instead of five.
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223 of 231 people found the following review helpful By disturbedchinchilla on 23 May 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Given that whole books could be written about virtually every single composer Alex Ross mentions in this mammoth survey, you'd be forgiven for thinking that 'The Rest is Noise' would be heavy on filler and light on critical insight. Whilst it's fair to say that as the musical world diversifies post-1950, Ross spends less and less time looking at the work of individual composers - this should take nothing away from an astounding work of scholarship.

Like any critic, Ross clearly has his own tastes and prejudices - composition to him is at its best when it addresses a popular audience. It's therefore unsurprising that he devotes more pages to composers such as Mahler, Strauss, Stravinksy, Sibelius and Britten over the 20th century's kookier figures. However, Ross is not simply bolstering the canon - Cage, Feldman, La Monte Young and Harry Partch are all given warm appraisals, even though none of them have been absorbed into the contemporary repertory.

Ross is gifted with a both a keen analytical ear (and eye) and a great generosity of spirit. Whilst he explores the darker totalitarian affiliations of composers such as Strauss, Webern, Orff and Shostakovich, he redeems them all from the blunt considerations of popular myth. In fact the only figure in the whole book who is subject to undisguised contempt is Pierre Boulez. In Ross' account he comes across as an arrogant, two-faced hypocrite - capable of acts of quite atrocious slander towards the very composers who made his work possible (Messiaen, Schoenberg, Stravinsky). It says a lot about Ross, that despite this he still finds time to admire Boulez's 'Marteau sans Maitre'.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Vernon on 30 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
If you want to know more about Twentieth Century classical music, read `The rest is noise'. This book has already won widespread plaudits, including being the winner of the Guardian First Book award 2008. It is a chunky tome - you need strong wrists to read in bed! The main text ends on page 591, to be followed by about 100 pages of notes, recommended listening and a good index.

Ross has an astonishing breadth of knowledge, conveyed with clarity, so his is a very educational book. The classical music of the last century contains many streams and reputedly difficult pieces that make us wary. This fractured, controversial and confusing musical landscape needs a guide, a Virgil to lead us through hell, and Ross is that man. He is a likeable, positive and enthusiastic companion, and will surely lead you to listen to more of the music he recommends, as I have done under his influence.

Ross does not treat music in isolation, but sets it in a vivid context of the history of the times. Politics, war, literature, philosophy and so forth influence music, just as music influences other spheres of our society. He is most enlightening on the birth of modernism before the first world war, the negative impact of the Nazis, the terror under Stalin, the cultural battles of the cold war and so on. By reading this book, you should have a better overview of many themes of 20th century history.

The definition of `classical' music is deeply difficult in the 20th Century, but the author has a clear idea of what is the serious music that he wants to tell us about. He is catholic and eclectic in his tastes, with no trace of snobbery.
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