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The rest is noise : listening to the…

The rest is noise : listening to the twentieth century (edition 2007)

by Alex Ross

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2,144454,588 (4.28)3 / 107
Title:The rest is noise : listening to the twentieth century
Authors:Alex Ross
Info:New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.
Collections:Your library

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The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross


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English (42)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Over 600 pages, classical music critic Alex Ross takes the reader on a breathless tour of twentieth-century composition. The book works roughly chronologically but also splits into sections charting various artistic movements that have dominated contemporary music: Schoenberg's influential twelve-tone compositional system; the influence of jazz on classical composition; and the ongoing dialectical tension between the urge to populism and the purity of the obscure. What works particularly well is that Ross does not treat music as divorced from its surrounding culture: politics and society are given equal weight with discussions of tonality and musical metaphor.

Ross' titans are clear: ample time is given to Schoenberg, Strauss, Messaien, Boulez, Britten, Stravinsky and Shostakovich, with later chapters focussing in detail on the likes of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt. The middle section of the book is dominated by the twin evils of Hitler and Stalin and is especially good at depicting the nervous, tortured life of Shostakovich. Later chapters look in detail at the life and work of Benjamin Britten, with a focus on his opera Peter Grimes. Minimalism, avant-garde notational experimentation, the heartland compositions of Aaron Copland and more are explored in a book which taught me lots - and provided me with a long new playlist to work through. I am writing this while listening to Terry Riley's hypnotic, gleaming work In C, one of many wonderful pieces I've been exposed to via this book. ( )
1 vote haarpsichord | Nov 5, 2018 |
What a brilliant book. What a piece of work. A readable, enjoyable, comprehensive review of classical music and its development in the twentieth century. Mr Ross deserves much praise for his scholarship, his research and his style and imagination. Only one slight criticism and it's probably of me as a reader rather than Mr Ross as a writer, in that a fairly detailed knowledge of musical notation is needed to fully appreciate what he has to say. Which points me onto my further reading. ( )
  Steve38 | Jun 4, 2018 |
This is a history of twentieth-century music, mainly focused on classical (though there is plenty about the overall context of classical music's relation to other genres). The composers' personalities are deftly drawn and the book does an excellent job of showing how classical music was affected by historical events (and vice versa). It's extremely well-written and I found it very difficult to put down. ( )
  ammodramus88 | Dec 23, 2017 |
(Rating: 4.5 /5.0, rounded up) ( )
  rabbit.blackberry | Oct 19, 2017 |
(Rating: 4.5 /5.0, rounded up) ( )
  rabbit.blackberry | Oct 19, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
In the process of laying out his history in sound, Ross fashions what amounts to a tacit revisionist picture, a small quiet revolution of his own. He gives the traditional trinity of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Bartók their due, both historically and technically, likewise other important figures like Webern and Cage. But the longest and warmest chapters in Ross' book concern the late-Romantic Finn Jean Sibelius and the eclectic but mostly tonal Brit Benjamin Britten. Those two and Shostakovich form a sort of counter-trinity in Ross' book: three composers who bucked the Modernist narrative that revolution is the name of the game, who wrote much of the time in traditional genres however personalized, and who were some of the most crowd-pleasing of 20th-century composers.

I asked Ross if he had intended a strike at the old consensus. The answer was: not exactly as such. "My plan all along," he replied, "was to write a book that would encompass both the Modernist revolution and those composers who fell outside of Modernism's conventional lineage. I didn't plan on supplanting the hierarchy that already existed (if I were capable of such a thing), but, rather, to supplement it. So, I see the century in terms of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartók AND Sibelius, Shostakovich, Britten, AND—very central to me—Berg and Messiaen." Ross adds that the view of the Modern period, or any period, can't be summarized in only a few figures: "When we talk about 19th-century music, we don't try to boil it down to three composers. I don't know if anyone with a straight face would say that the major composers of the 19th century were, say, Beethoven, Verdi, and Wagner ...What about Schubert? Brahms? Berlioz? Etc. It should be the same with the 20th century."
added by elenchus | editSlate.com, Jan Swafford (Sep 1, 2008)
The book achieves a remarkable interdisciplinary synthesis, in which music illuminates history as well as vice versa. Throughout, Ross fluently switches tempo and focus, between super-elegant New Yorker-style profiles of representative artists, and widescreen pans across whole movements and cultural periods, zooming in unerringly on fascinating detail. But what really sets his writing apart is the language he has forged to evoke sound. On The Rite of Spring: "Having assembled his folk melodies, Stravinsky proceeded to pulverize them into motivic bits, pile them up in layers, and reassemble them in cubistic collages and montages." On Messiaen's From the Canyons to the Stars: "There is a supernova of A major, billowing into the lowest and highest reaches of the orchestra and whiting out in fortissimo strings." ("Whiting out" is perfect.)
added by Milesc | editThe Guardian, Steven Poole (Mar 15, 2008)
“The Rest Is Noise” is 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.

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"It seems to me ... that despite the logical, moral rigor music may appear to display, it belongs to the world of spirits, for whose absolute reliability in matters of human reason and dignity I would not exactly want to put my hand in the fire. That I am nevertheless devoted to it with all my heart is one of those contradictions which, whether a cause for joy or regret are inseparable from human nature." Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus
HAMLET: ... - the rest is silence.
HORATIO: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! [March within.] Why does the drum come hither?
For my parents and Jonathan
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In the spring of 1928, George Gershwin, the creator of Rhapsody in Blue, toured Europe and met the leading composers of the day. (Preface)
When Richard Strauss conducted his opera Salome on May 16, 1906, in the Austrian city of Graz, several crowned heads of European music gathered to witness the event.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the impulse to pit classical music against pop culture no longer makes intellectual or emotional sense. Young composers have grown up with pop music ringing in their ears, and they make use of it or ignore it as the occasion demands. They are seeking the middle ground between the life of the mind and the noise of the street.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374249393, Hardcover)

Anyone who has ever gamely tried and failed to absorb, enjoy, and--especially--understand the complex works of Schoenberg, Mahler, Strauss, or even Philip Glass will allow themselves a wry smile reading New Yorker music critic Alex Ross's outstanding The Rest Is Noise. Not only does Ross manage to give historical, biographical, and social context to 20th-century pieces both major and minor, he brings the scores alive in language that's accessible and dramatic.

Take Ross's description of Schoenberg's Second Quartet, "in which he hesitates at a crossroads, contemplating various paths forming in front of him. The first movement, written the previous year, still uses a fairly conventional late-Romantic language. The second movement, by contrast, is a hallucinatory Scherzo, unlike any other music at the time. It contains fragments of the folk song 'Ach, du lieber Augustin'--the same tune that held Freudian significance for Mahler. For Schoenberg, the song seems to represent a bygone world disintegrating; the crucial line is 'Alles ist hin' (all is lost). The movement ends in a fearsome sequence of four-note figures, which are made up of fourths separated by a tritone. In them may be discerned traces of the bifurcated scale that begins Salome. But there is no longer a sense of tonalities colliding. Instead, the very concept of a chord is dissolving into a matrix of intervals."

Armed with such a detailed aural roadmap, even a troglodyte--or a heavy metal fan--can explore these pivotal works anew. But it's not all crashing cymbals, honking tubas, and somber Germans stroking their chins. Ross also presents the human dramas (affairs, wars, etc.) behind these sweeping compositions while managing, against the odds, to discuss C-major triads, pentatonic scales, and B-flat dominant sevenths without making our eyes glaze over. And he draws a direct link between the Beatles and Sibelius. It's no surprise that the New York Times named The Rest Is Noise one of the 10 Best Books of 2007. Music nerds have found their most articulate valedictorian. --Kim Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:58 -0400)

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The scandal over modern music has not died--while paintings by Picasso and Pollock sell for millions of dollars, works from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. Yet 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. Music critic Alex Ross shines a bright light on this secret world, taking us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia to New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, and riots. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.--From publisher description.… (more)

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