The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross

The Rest Is Noise

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is a voyage into the labyrinth of modern music, which remains an obscure world for most people. While paintings of Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, and lines from T. S. Eliot are quoted on the yearbook pages of alienated teenagers across the land, twentieth-century classical music still sends ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, its infl...

Details The Rest Is Noise

TitleThe Rest Is Noise
Release DateOct 16th, 2007
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
GenreMusic, Nonfiction, History, Art, Classical Music, Cultural, Reference, Unfinished, Biography, Criticism

Reviews The Rest Is Noise

  • Tony
    You know how you can watch a foreign language movie, without subtitles, and still enjoy the film? You may not speak German but can still tell that Hitler's pissed off. You may not speak French, but you can tell that Juliette Binoche has reached a point of existential doubt in a meretricious relationship. This book was like that for me. I may not, even now, be able to articulate a difference between atonality and twelve-tone music (is there one?),...
  • Greg
    This book took me way too long to read, which is a little strange because I found it very interesting and quite inspiring. I'm tempted to give it five stars, but I'm too much of a dilettante when it comes to cough, serious music to not necessarily take everything that the author is saying at face value. I do have two complaints about the books though, the first is that the author clearly dislikes the one of the few people I probably do count as a...
  • Paul Christensen
    This book could be subtitled: ‘Musicians who did stuff after Wagner, with wildly varied results’. Wagner hovers like a ghost over this work, the Great Father whose achievements couldn’t be surpassed in toto, only in miniature via crazier and crazier endeavours.The composers range from deep genius (Debussy, Sibelius) to sterile fapping (too many to name), but whether one loves or hates their music is irrelevant as this is primarily a work of...
  • Jonathan Barry
    I think this book is best read and listened to at the same time; it really adds to it. As such, I created a Youtube playlist to go along with your read, which you can find here: you're looking for a listen with better sound quality and don't mind finding them yourselves (I can't blame you), then here is the list of songs that I thought captured the book:Richard Strauss – Also Sprach ZarathustraGustav M...
  • Barry Pierce
    Alex Ross is one of my must-read New Yorker writers. Whenever a new piece of his comes out I know I'm going to be smarter than I was before. To me, he is the music critic. The Rest Is Noise is often referred to as the book on 20th century classical music. And I can only further perpetrate that sentiment.
  • kaelan
    This isn't something I say lightly, but pretty much everyone should consider reading Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise.* Why? Because (a) it makes for a riveting work of political and cultural history, and (b) it provides a layman's entry point into that most venerable of Western art forms—classical music.I first became acquainted with this book in my late teens. By that time, I'd already immersed myself quite heavily in free jazz, noise, and the li...
  • Gary
    alex ross is one of the few remaining music critics for a major american periodical (there used to be many more, but it's a dwindling profession/art), in his case, the new yorker. he attends a concert more than once if possible, with the score and without, in order to both understand the music and feel it. and he's young, so his ears aren't burdened with decades of ear wax, "received wisdom," archaic prejudice, rare is it to ever find any...
  • Tosh
    Alex Ross' wonderful trip to the 20th Century via the world of classical music and it's composers. As I mentioned I had very little knowledge of classical music - especially modern. I knew Glass, Reich, Satie, but overall this is pretty much a new world music wise.Saying that this is also the history of cultural life in the 20th Century. The best chapeters deal with Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia and how they used music -and how it affected the...
  • Caroline
    This is a comprehensive overview of Western music in the twentieth century. I was lucky enough to live in Los Angeles in the last decade when Disney Hall opened, so I heard music by many of these composers played by both the full orchestra and by smaller groups in the Green Umbrella series. Plus there was Jacaranda in Santa Monica. Those two sources taught me to appreciate modern music, so I read this with much more experience and curiosity than ...
  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    This is hands down the best book I have read about music. Alex Ross writes about composers, their relationship with each other, and how they survive the culture swirling around them, in a way that really captured me, and I work with music for a living. It took me a long time to read because I felt obligated to listen to all the pieces he referenced. Worth reading no matter how familiar you are with classical music. It is practically a history of ...
  • Alex
    Ross, whose articles in the New Yorker I have followed religiously for years, and continue to anticipate with a zeal otherwise reserved for The Wire, delivers a multi-layered and exhaustively researched portrait of a century's music and its reception. His account includes not only a collection of nuanced miniature biographies of composers—both the duly celebrated and the tragically neglected—and sweeping, intertextual analyses of "the music"...
  • Michael Finocchiaro
    Who says history is boring? And who says classical music died with Wagner? Well I have actually always liked history but was largely unfamiliar with 20c classical music until I read Ross' excellent The Rest is Noise. Alex Ross does an amazing job of writing the history of the 20c in classical music starting at the waning but overwhelming influence of Wagner on early 20c composers like Schoenberg and Stravinsky through the onset of atonal music an...
  • Lobstergirl
    Ross weaves biography, history, and musical description into a pleasing synthesis, in accessible nonacademic language. He does for 20th century classical music what Niall Ferguson did for the British Empire, in Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World. Both authors are terrific storytellers.Among the interesting subplots are the relationships (at times close, friendly, grudgingly respectful, rivalrous, prickly, or downright hostile) between vari...
  • martina
    I could never make sense of 20th century classical music, especially the stuff from 50's and on. Whenever I picked a random piece, I felt it was hermetically closed in itself, as if created only for the composer's own pleasure, so I often felt I needed some kind of special initiation into this music that I could never obtain. But since there were a few exceptions (most notably Arvo Pärt), I didn't want to give up on it. Then I found out that thi...
  • Tom Choi
    This is a tremendous work which dares to tell the great history of music in the 20th Century. But in that it aims so high, it also falls short of its promise.There are some great "stories" that are recounted here, in particular, the portions concerning the premiere of Strauss' "Salome"; and the spirited rivalry between Strauss and Mahler; the unlikely journeys of Schoenberg and Shostakovich in the New World; and the drama surrounding Messiaen's "...
  • Joe
    I began this book almost wholly ignorant of most of its central figures. I knew that "twelve-tone music" was something controversial and supposedly inaccessible, but I didn't know what it was or if I'd ever heard any. So there may be major composers skipped, controversies skirted, opinions presented as fact; I probably wouldn't know.What I do know is that Alex Ross is a wonderfully passionate music writer, and he did a great job tying the history...
  • Bob King
    I heard many positive comments on this book, and being a lover of contemporary classical music, finally picked up a used copy. What's unique about the writing is that Ross mixes in just the right amount of historical context to the lively music scene of the past hundred years. You get into the heads of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Strauss and Copland -- just to name a few -- and come to understand that their musical styles were tightly woven into the ...
  • David M
    I myself know very little about music, but I do like to listen to it. I like to listen to it, and I find the xxth century debates over tonality fascinating. Ross unsurprisingly takes the liberal, ecumenical point of view (he does write for the New Yorker after all); I myself want to be able appreciate a wide variety of different kinds of art, and to my untrained ear it's not obvious why Schoenberg should represent revolution and Stravinsky reacti...
  • Pia
    I'm gobbling this up. I grew up with musician parents but we never talked about music. So Alex Ross feels like the family I always wanted. My copy's studded with 3M markers and I've been on a Mahler binge since I started reading this. I want to hear every piece he mentions, which will keep me busy and happy and moved for the rest of the year. The writing's accessible, generous, and the vivid lives of the composers he discusses make for better rea...
  • Thomas
    Alright, three stars is actually a pretty good rating considering that, unlike many readers who reviewed this book, I’m neither a music student or a lifelong fan of classical music. I’m just one of those philistines whose knowledge of 20th-century music is basically about the popular variety. Still, I learned a lot and I absolutely don’t blame anyone for giving this five stars. It’s an amazing book and I’ll bet a truly knowledgeable rea...
  • Thom
    Very complete examination of twentieth century classical music, including the effects from and on people, politics, and other forms of music - from jazz and musicals to punk and hip-hop. The effects of World War II (many composers were Jewish, gay, or both) is strongly felt, but the impact of other politics is also shown.This is very much an examination of western music, and while influences from Africa color many earlier compositions, Asian coun...
  • Rudy
    How do you even write about music? During most of my reading I turn all forms of melodious interferences off. For the most part, I did the same with this book. Sometimes if Ross discussed a piece at length, I'd look it up online and give it a listen on the side. But for the most part, Ross describes the music in such a succinct way. Talking vividly of the specific chords, melodies and instrumentation used and how even the tiniest changes in the p...
  • In-ho Yi
    Finally finished reading this masterpiece. My idea of music has matured so much as a result.
  • Barnaby Thieme
    This ambitious, thrilling guide to notational music in the twentieth century admirably succeeds in its many goals. Alex Ross, recent recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, is an accomplished music critic of the New Yorker. He maintains one of the most readable blogs on the internet: In this his first book Ross traces the development of music from Strauss's epoch-inaugurating "Salome" through to the work of John Ad...
  • Nick Black
    Amazon 2008-05-21, recommendation from second-best book I've read this year, following After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empires Since 1450. When I returned to Georgia Tech, I loaded up both the offered "History of Composers" classes, cleaved at the 1800 point and running through 1900 + a generous spoonful of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern and Bern. Alex Ross has elegantly and authoritatively consummated t...
  • Nichelle Crocker
    I went nuts listening to music, and I’m just getting warmed up. That was my reason for reading The Rest Is Noise. I was already a big fan of 20th century classical music and I wanted a jumping-off place for more listening. I’ll lead off my review with the evidence of my mania, my listening list. It’s crazytown, but maybe other people will get some value out of it. book does supply a listening list ...
  • Brooke Shirts
    Alex Ross is, in my opinion, one of the better writers for The New Yorker. This history of 20th-century art music is quite a feat: how to make some of the world's most difficult music accessible and understandable to the average music fan? Really, even though Ross' ability to describe the music and explain its placement and importance in history is stellar, I was frustrated with my unfamiliarity with some of the pieces he describes. Here's a samp...
  • Vrixton Phillips
    Word to the wise, this book is not for someone who knows little to nothing of 20th Century classical music. It also helps if you have some music theory under your belt, because Ross often delves into musical play-by-play [which is a good reminder if you've heard a piece before, but lost on someone who hasn't yet.] It's more like a book for a 20th century music lover who wants to learn why or how certain movements popped up, such as dodecaphonalis...
  • Brett
    The two basic claims of this book are blatant lies: the first being that music is the only 20th century art form that hasn't been embraced and the second that this book is aimed at people with only a passing interest in classical music. Just because Jackson Pollock paintings sell for millions doesn't mean most people don't think they're crap. Similarly, there are plenty of 20th century compositions that are in the repertoire. And seriously, this ...
  • Bruce
    It is a brilliant cultural history of 20th century classical music. A real tour de force. I could nit-pick at the details, but Ross managed to create a compelling narrative out of a fractured century of disparate musical styles and trends. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in 20th century classical music. Rarely does one encounter a music critic who is as exceptionally musically sensitive as this, and who is also such a fine writer. ...