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The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007)

by Alex Ross

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,805555,086 (4.3)3 / 114
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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» See also 114 mentions

English (50)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (55)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Great read. So much music to listen to off the back of this.
  Crokey20 | Feb 24, 2023 |
I've always been pretty dubious about music of the 20th century and usually come at it with some trepidation and prepare to not like it. A friend read this and I decided to give it a read to try and be a bit more open minded. I think he changed my mind somewhat on the pre-WWII music but I remain unchanged on post WWII and especially into the 60s and 70s. Nothing he said made me want to listen to any of the music despite his obvious praise and fondness. However, the overall book was both well-written and informative and despite dragging at the end for me, with music I cared nothing about, it was well worth the read. Also, Pierre Boulez sounds like a difficult bully.
  amyem58 | Sep 20, 2022 |
This is a really splendid book: evocative, far-ranging, and ... almost revelatory. Almost.

The thing is, a big splashy survey like this is going to grip you or not grip you based at least partly on what it emphasizes, and what it doesn't emphasize. To put it more bluntly: does the author's judgments regarding who deserves the most coverage match the reader's or do they not? and if they do not, does the author do a good job of swaying the reader in his or her direction?

And to be fair, the overlap will NEVER be 100%, and you're probably lucky if it tops 50% ... and yes, perhaps it's unjust to rate a book based on something like this. But I kept thinking things like "I wish Ross had given more pages to X than Y." To make this concrete, I wish Ross had spent more time with Charles Ives than with Aaron Copland. I realize Copland is important, I guess, but he is a composer who has never truly grabbed me -- and to be honest I think Ives was more important.

And of course I thought things like "huh? one sentence on Carl Nielsen? one mention of Per Norgard? really? why do you hate Denmark, Mr. Ross" (I'm exaggerating a little, there)? No ... you can't cover everyone in a just-under-600 page survey. But still.

Ross's ability to describe music in prose has been praised. For me this works a lot of the time, but sometimes it just doesn't.

Still, a really wonderful book. ( )
  tungsten_peerts | Jul 9, 2022 |
الموسيقى الكلاسيكية في القرن العشرين هي انعكاس لزمانها. وأحد الأسئلة التي ظلت تراود علماء الموسيقى والنقاد، هو ما إذا كان ممكناً للقطعة الموسيقية أن توجد بمفردها، منفصلة عن الوقت والسياق الذي أتت منه. ربما يكون أحد أفضل الأمثلة على هذا السؤال هو أعمال ريتشارد فاغنر، الملحن الألماني الذي توفي عام 1883. ترك فاغنر وراءه كتابات معادية للسامية، ورحب أدولف هتلر بأعماله الموسيقية لاحقاً باعتبارها ذروة الموسيقى. رُحّبَ بفاغنر أيضاً باعتباره عبقرياً من قبل العديد من نقاد الموسيقى في عصره وأثبت أنه يتمتع بشعبية كبيرة لدى المستمع العادي، وبالتالي كان ظله يلوح في الأفق على الموسيقى في بداية القرن العشرين. يحكي الكتاب قصة تطور الموسيقى من أوبرا فاغنر الفخمة إلى بساطة أنغام ستيف رايش، والتي هي أيضاً قصة ما كان يحدث حول هؤلاء الملحنين في ذلك الوقت. فمع تزايد الانقسام الشديد في السياسة واحتدام الحروب، يعكس صوت الموسيقى المعاصرة هذه التغييرات ويحكي قصة شعوب تحسب حساباً لماضيها وتحاول رسم طريق جديد بالموسيقى.
دفعت الحروب المدمرة المؤلفين والملحنين إلى التحرر من الأثقال التاريخية التي حملتها الأعمال الموسيقية السابقة والمضي قدماً في مؤلفات جديدة متمسكة بالشكليات الموسيقية (أو ما يُعرف بالأسلوب الرسمي) وغير متناغمة (أسلوب اللامركزية النغمية). ومثلما كانت هناك انقسامات سياسية محتدمة في جميع أنحاء أوروبا والولايات المتحدة، كانت هناك أيضاً انقسامات موسيقية وسياسات في أساليب التأليف، والتي أصبحت أكثر عدوانية خلال ذروة الحركة الإبداعية الطليعية في النصف الثاني من القرن. إلى أن ظهر الاتجاه البسيط في الموسيقى (أو ما يُعرف بموسيقى الحد الأدنى) والتلحين الإلكتروني الذي منح المؤلفين طريق جديدة للإبداع.
كتاب ممتع وغني بالتفاصيل؛ من فضائح الوسط الموسيقي في فيينا التي دفعت البعض إلى تبني الأنغام المتنافرة في التلحين والابتعاد عن مركزية النغمة الواحدة، إلى باليه سترافينسكي التي حولت المشهد الموسيقي في باريس، يليها التأثير الكبير الذي كان لمدرسة دارمشتات الألمانية بعد الحرب على الموسيقى في العالم، وغيرها. ( )
  TonyDib | Jan 28, 2022 |
Excellent, novel-like survey of classical music in the 20th century. ( )
  Jimbookbuff1963 | Jun 5, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (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.
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ross, Alexprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strick, CharlotteCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
"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?
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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