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The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century Paperback – 5 Mar 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (5 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841154768
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841154763
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 5.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,410 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

Review

‘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 www.therestisnoise.com 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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From the Publisher

WINNER OF THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2008
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James Walters on 31 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
Worth a read for some of the unusual anecdotes eg.Boulez kissing Shostakovich's hands. Given Boulez's supposed antipathy (or is it just a pose?)it seems unlikely, but the story is apparently from a trusted source.
The perspective of Ross's book is refreshingly different from previous attempts as figures like Strauss,Sibelius and Feldman (sidelined by Paul Griffiths) are given prominence over some of the usual suspects.
Most tellingly,Ross has the ability to capture the flavour of a particular time and place which puts him ahead of comparable volumes, and why I'd imagine this book has reached beyond the normal confines. This has only been achieved in the medium of television: Paul Crossley's 'Sinfonietta' which was broadcast on Channel 4 in the late 1980s.
On the nitty gritty of musical grammar Ross can be absurdly spurious-take the comparison drawn between the opening four notes of Sibelius's 5th Symphony and Coltrane's 'A love Supreme'-this is thrown in to impress readers who are less familiar with musical notation.
I guess it's inevitable, but Ross is on shakier ground when it comes to living composers-here we are left with speculation, and bereft of the sifting process which takes place over a period of time:Here I feel Ross succumbs to the allure of the fashionable.
An amazing amount of attention is lavished on John Adams,composer of the incredibly anodyne opera 'Doctor Atomic' and a truly atrocious violin concerto.
Only time will tell...I may well be completely mistaken of course!
By comparison, Frederic Rzewski(b.1938) is a mere footnote, and the unconventional British composer Michael Finnissy (b.1946) doesn't even get a mention.
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