The scandal over modern music has not died down. While paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, shocking musical works from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, the influence of modern music can be felt everywhere. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalist music has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward. Alex Ross, the brilliant music critic for The New Yorker, shines a bright light on this secret world, and shows how it has pervaded every corner of twentieth century life.
The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.
Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us 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. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, the end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
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.