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Listen to This by Alex Ross

Listen to This

by Alex Ross

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Today I finished reading Listen to This, or as much of it as I am going to. I have been reading the essays out of order. I knew it was time to quit when three page into an essay on Mozart I suddenly realized I'd already read it. These are stylish, diverting pieces--Ross is knowledgeable and an elegant writer--but they lack heft. Some of these essays began as reviews for The New Yorker and The Nation, and they retain a magazine feel, lightly skimming the glossy surface of profound subjects. One of the most engaging essays, the discussion of the sacralization of music, began life as a review of books by William Weber and Kenneth Hamilton, and naturally you'll learn much more about the origins of 20th century classical concert culture and its weird fetishes from these guys (and Larry Levine, James H. Johnson, etc.) than you will here. As an inducement to further reading, it's recommendable. ( )
  middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
Si, questo libro è davvero una gioia. Non tanto perche' unisce gli appassionati di classica e pop - come spesso si e'. Nessun serio melomane potra' prendere in considerazione l'idea di ascoltarsi i Radiohead, ne' nessun ragazzotto che si prende sul serio potra' decidersi di provare l'ebbrezza del Don Giovanni diretto da Giulini. Io, che non sono ne' (solo) melomane ne' (solo) ragazzotto, ho con grande piacere scoperto John Luther Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Lorrain Hunt Lieberson. Sono scivolato via dal saggio su Dylan e sulla musica cinese, ho letto con grande interesse tutto il resto, velocizzando sulle parti strettamente tecniche. Un libro che potrebbe spaventare per la mole, ma si legge con grande velocita'. Poi rimane il dispiacere di scoprire autori bellissimi e brani profondissimi con cosi' grande ritardo. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Alex Ross is a stellar writer, and I'm willing to bet he's a great musician, too.

This book of essays is based on articles he wrote for the New Yorker and the New York Times from the late 1990's, until 2011. The essays cover everything from the musical history of the descending chromatic bass line (also known as the "lament," and "the walking blues"), to Bjork and Radiohead, and Bach, Brahms, and Bob ... as in Bob Dylan. Along the way, Mr. Ross captures the many ways music communicates deeper emotions than can be expressed in words, as in his description of Peter Lieberson's song for his dying wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, "Sonnet XCII."

As with Mr. Ross's previous work, "The Rest if Noise," I have nothing but superlatives. If you love music, you'll want to read this book. ( )
  harrietbrown | Mar 21, 2014 |
A hit and miss collection, which isn't too surprising, given the range and my own peculiarities as a reader. The first, manifesto-like piece is very entertaining: say no to Classical Music, yes to demanding music, which is what a bunch of boring people call Classical Music! Then a piece on a short sequence which is used across all genres and throughout the musical hierarchy, deftly showing that our separations of popular from classical are more or less nonsense... which is also tremendously boring if you've already been convinced of that. From there Ross attempts to practice, rather than theorize about, this 'music is just music' idea.

He's at his best when writing mini-biographical journalistic pieces, as with his discussion of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Bjork, and 'late' Brahms, but take that with a pinch of salt, because it might just be that I love Brahms and like Bjork and contemporary music while not being all that keen on, say, Sinatra and Schubert.

The weakness, as with almost everyone who tries to make the leap from classical writing/playing to 'pop' writing/playing, is that he treats pop as if it's a tradition in the same way that classical music is a tradition. The great sounds (string sections; piano sonatas) and composers (from Palestrina on down) are a given set of excellences. Pop music has no such tradition, but writers like Ross act as if the most well-known interesting pop musicians (Bjork, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Kurt Cobain (soi disant)) are actually the most interesting, which is a long way from the truth. The best pop musicians, and the ones most worth writing about, don't end up with long careers or hit records; they're not very well known. They come up with a sound or two, a song or two, and then often--not always--fade away. I imagine that Ross could write about, say, the backroads of experimental metal and the niche sites of electronic music just as well as he does about Radiohead. Is there an audience for that? Perhaps not right now, but the music journalist's job is to create that audience. I'd love to see Ross write about the most interesting pop music out there right now, rather than just the groups he can get a New Yorker profile out of. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The triumph of “Listen to This” is that Ross dusts off music that’s centuries old to reveal the passion and brilliance that’s too often hidden from a contemporary audience. It’s a joy for a pop fan or a classical aficionado.
Running through every piece is a spirit of adventure, common sense, joy and, ultimately, engagement. As when he suggests this approach to classical music: "The best kind of classical performance is not a retreat into the past but an intensification of the present."
There's a huge amount to admire in this collection of essays about music, but not quite enough to love. Alex Ross -- the widely honored author of "The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century" -- writes for the New Yorker, and sometimes it shows. All the pieces are marvels of research and reporting, but at least half of them feel a little solemn, over-edited and just mildly pedantic.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alex Rossprimary authorall editionscalculated
Strick, CharlotteCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This collection of essays showcases the best of Ross's writing from more than a decade at" The New Yorker." Whether his subject is Mozart or Bob Dylan, Ross shows how music expresses the full complexity of the human condition. Witty, passionate, and brimming with insight, "Listen to This" teaches us how to listen.… (more)

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