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The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century [Kindle Edition]

Alex Ross
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)

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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

Classical Music

A masterly writer...A remarkable book.'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1350 KB
  • Print Length: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (25 Aug 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005IND4NO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #21,713 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars breezy and compulsively readable 23 July 2010
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
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars mostly noise
sadly the author is rather uninformed about MUSIC, so he packed the book with lots of what he probably thinks is factual research and is dismissive about some of the more crucial... Read more
Published 15 days ago by aiya
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding account of 20th century music for the average listener.
An outstanding and detailed account of composition in the 20th century. I am a professional commentator on music, but this carried information that I've never met before. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Shikisha
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a very good read
It's easy to read and helps you learning a lot about the musci world of the last century. Enlightening. Brilliant!
Published 3 months ago by Laura Piovesan
5.0 out of 5 stars A very accessible history and critique of "modern" music.
The who?when? where? and how? of twentieth century music in delightfully readable form. Much recommended for study or interest reading..
Published 3 months ago by norma lord
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly good with one small defect
Great book but arrived with the back cover and some pages folded and dirty. It seemed like something had stepped on it. It's a small defect but visible. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Sonia Oliveira
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly fine
This book arrived with the back cover and some pages folded on the lower corner. It was small but also dirty, it seemed like something had stepped on it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by MR H M MOREIRA
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Read first by my son (as a hardback). I got halfway through to the death of Prokofiev and had a break. As son returned book to Library I decided to buy a kindle version. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mark Maurice
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rest is Noise,
Alex Ross has a style of writing that turns a potted history of music into an engaging, authoritative romp through the entire twentieth century and most of the musical milestones... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Harry Stottle
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I bought this because of Alex Ross' brilliant articles and critical writing, and was not disappointed. A marvellous, clever and approachable book.
Published 12 months ago by Jem
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading
So authoritative that the Southbank Centre in London have based a whole year's 20th century music festival on it! Despite this it is very enjoyable to read
Published 13 months ago by Antony
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Popular Highlights

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“what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.” &quote;
Highlighted by 6 Kindle users
Emperor Franz Joseph, the embodiment of old Vienna, was heard to say: “Is music such a serious business? I always thought it was meant to make people happy.” &quote;
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In the late eighteenth century, 84 percent of the repertory of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra consisted of music by living composers. By 1855, the figure had declined to 38 percent, by 1870 to 24 percent. &quote;
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