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Alex Ross’s sweeping history of twentieth-century classical music, winner of the Guardian First Book Award, is a gripping account of a musical revolution.
The landscape of twentieth-century classical music is a wild one: this was a period in which music fragmented into apparently divergent strands, each influenced by its own composers, performers and musical innovations. In this comprehensive tour, Alex Ross, music critic for the ‘New Yorker’, explores the people and places that shaped musical development: Adams to Zweig, Brahms to Björk, pre-First World War Vienna to ‘Nixon in China’.
Above all, this unique portrait of an exceptional era weaves together art, politics and cultural history to show how twentieth-century classical music was both a symptom and a source of immense social change.
‘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.
Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich's downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives such as Shostakovich's struggles under the Soviet regime make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out in precise but readily accessible language the notes that link Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears.