Winner of the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
A New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book of the Year
Time magazine Top Ten Nonfiction Book of 2007
Newsweek Favorite Books of 2007
A Washington Post Book World Best Book of 2007
In this sweeping and dramatic narrative, Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, weaves together the histories of the twentieth century and its music, from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties; from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies up to the present. Taking readers into the labyrinth of modern style, Ross draws revelatory connections between the century's most influential composers and the wider culture. The Rest Is Noise is an astonishing history of the twentieth century as told through its music.
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.
I learned much of what I know about 20th century music from this spectacular book. This book gives every composer (and reader) a fair chance. You need no background in music to appreciate this masterfully woven tapestry of giants and geniuses. Even if you think you know a lot, this book will be a true delight! I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
Excellent but frustrating
This is a terrific book, but it is very frustrating that several accents, such as the C in Janacek's name, create a paragraph return. Similar problems happen with composers such as Dvorak and Martinu, making the book very clumsy to navigate.
The Rest is Noise
This is the best book on 20th century music yet written. It is entertaining, comprehensive, and enlightening. A truly outstanding read.