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The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

by Alex Ross

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,575554,913 (4.3)3 / 111
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 111 mentions

English (49)  Spanish (3)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
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 |
I've been a classical music fan for essentially my entire life, having had parents who listened to it, Music Memory training in elementary school, education on instruments in high school, and a decent local classical music station in KMFA. This history of classical music in the 20th century is by far the best book on music period I've ever read, not only a masterclass on how to listen to and appreciate music, but also a thoughtful meditation on the eternal dialectic between "popular" and "artistic" works and a great set of capsule biographies of some of the most important composers of what could be one of the most important centuries in classical music's entire history.

One of the many things I learned from this book was that Mahler was one of the first guys to make classical music "serious" in that hushed, reverent way that seems so antithetical to modern concert-going. Strange as it may seem, classical music used to be music of the people, and though in the popular imagination almost the only contemporary relics of its once overpowering cultural dominance is in scores to film works or the obligatory attempts of parents to bring up their kids on the piano or clarinet, classical music used to be popular in the best sense. Much of the broader narrative of the book is devoted to showing the ceaseless efforts of some composer to integrate some popular style into the classical canon - think Stravinsky's strange rhythms in The Rite of Spring or Gershwin's jazz stylings in Rhapsody in Blue - and some other composer's opposing efforts to keep music "pure", "artistic", or "formal", as in Schoenberg's twelve-tone system or the more formal works of John Cage.

This same tension between formal purity and the informal vernacular can be seen in every musical subgenre: just think of the endless debates over whether or not The Clash's reggae experiments are real punk music, arguments over whether the latest hip-hop album is really the same thing as the legacy of Public Enemy or Wu-Tang, or the continual worrying on Rolling Stone's part of whatever happened to good old-fashioned rock and roll. Really, it happens in every sphere of art, and Ross smoothly integrates examples from literature, such as Thomas Mann's musician protagonist in Doctor Faustus, to show how composers struggled with the twin sirens of critical acclaim and popular success. It's remarkable to see, over and over again, how a work that's derided as lightweight one year gets retroactively dubbed a classic, and how once-lauded cornerstones of the canon gradually start to gather dust and fade from memory.

Of course, classical music itself seems to be on the verge of gathering dust itself, and Ross does a phenomenal job of showing what a tragedy that would be for music. His expositions of musical techniques, broader themes, and connections between works are breath-taking, clearly the product of a smart, active listener trying to shine a light on some of the greatest and most thoughtful music of all time. His spirit is infectious, and his ability to lucidly explain the recondite techniques and often deliberately hermetic musical philosophies of dozens of composers has made me listen to even the decidedly less-cognitively demanding music I listen to on a daily basis in a different way. Even simple pop music can be made to seem fresh, part of a grand musical continuum and conversation that's still ongoing and progressing, and though it's really hard for me personally to appreciate music with the seemingly perfectly ecumenical attitude that Ross has, he's brilliant at drawing linkages between the music of the present and the music of the past. Classical music of the Beethoven variety has "died" more times than I realized, and each time some upstart young artist tried to kill it anew with outsider weapons like folk music, jazz, blues, rock and roll, electronica, and world music, somehow composers managed to absorb the strongest elements of all of these new musical languages and the tradition quietly regrouped itself for the next new challenge.

While I was reading this book I continually took notes and made lists of the music he mentioned. Occasionally Ross' efforts to make me some love new piece were in vain - I doubt I'll ever get as much pleasure out of Terry Riley's In C as I do out of The Who's derivative efforts on Who's Next, despite extremely interesting commentary on Ross' part - but there's never any doubt that Ross genuinely loved these works, and is an intelligent, perceptive, and generous listener. Even if you don't know or care who Schoenberg was, this book is a tremendous achievement in music scholarship, and in the spirit of approaching all art with an open mind, his herculean labors here can only enrich your appreciation for music of all keys, styles, and ages. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (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.
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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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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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