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This is a chapter from Alex Ross’s groundbreaking history of twentieth-century classical music, ‘The Rest is Noise’. Further extracts are available as digital shorts, accompanying the London Southbank festival programme.
After the war, composers took up what might be called catastrophe style with a vengeance. The twentieth century was undoubtedly one of the most horrific periods of human history - but terror was not always the subject of its composers. For some, attempting to transcend or reject the despair that consumed other artists led to the creation of some of the century’s most beautiful music.
Now a major festival running throughout 2013 at London’s Southbank, The Rest is Noise is an intricate commentary not just on the sounds that defined the century, but on art’s troublesome dance with politics, social and cultural change.
Alex Ross is the New Yorker’s music critic, and the winner of the Guardian First Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Rest is Noise, which was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson and Pulitzer prizes for non-fiction.
‘Alex Ross's incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyone's fire for music.’ Björk
‘A brilliant, bracing account of all the different kinds of “classical” music that have permeated this last dark century. Such an entertaining, accessible and enthralling book.’ Colin Greenwood, Guardian
‘It’s a history of 20th-century music so vivid and original in approach that it made me listen again to many pieces I thought I knew well.’ Philip Pullman, Guardian
‘Ranks as my non-fiction book of the year. Erudite and engaging, written with flair and passion.’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent
‘Combines scrupulous and inventive analyses of the 20th century’s music with lavish care over that music’s improvised history.’ Adam Thirlwell, Guardian
‘He places the music in social and cultural context while sticking to the score and eschewing the artworld political consensus. A miracle.’ George Walden, TLS
‘”The Rest is Noise” achieves the aim with bravura, hacking out a path leading from cacophonous European modernism to the white noise of The Velvet Underground.’ Ludovic Hunter-Tilroy, Financial Times
‘Alex Ross breaks new ground. This is an astonishing book.’ The Times
'Just occasionally someone writes a book you've waited your life to read. Alex Ross's enthralling history of 20th-century music is, for me, one of those books.' Alan Rusbridger, Guardian
‘Stunning narrative. Visionary music critic Alex Ross comes closer than anyone to describing the spellbinding sensations music provokes.’ Financial Times
‘A work of immense scope and ambition … a great achievement. Rilke once wrote of how he learned to stand “more seeingly” in front of certain paintings. Ross enables us to listen more hearingly.’ New York Times
'A sound-drenched masterpiece.' Steven Poole, Guardian
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.