The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

Alex Ross

A sweeping musical history that goes from the salons of pre-war Vienna to Velvet Underground shows in the sixties.

In The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross, music critic of the New Yorker, gives us a riveting tour of the wild landscape of twentieth-century classical music: portraits of individuals, cultures, and nations reveal the predicament of the composer in a noisy, chaotic century. Taking as his starting point a production of Richard Strauss’s Salome, conducted by the composer on 16 May 1906 with Puccini, Schoenberg, Berg and Adolf Hitler seated in the stalls, Ross suggests how this evening can be considered the century’s musical watershed rather the riotous premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring seven years later. Ross goes on to explore the mythology of modernism, Sibelius and the music of small countries, Kurt Weill, the music of the Third Reich, Britten, Boulez and the post-war avant-garde, and interactions between minimalist composers and rock bands in the sixties and seventies.

Reviews of The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

    • ‘Alex Ross’s incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyone’s fire for music.’ Björk
    • ‘One of the best living writers about rock .’ Steven Poole, Guardian ‘Picks for 2008’
    • ‘A superb and inclusive account by a champion of modern music.’ Sunday Times
    • ‘Puts the history back into music and the music back into history. Alex Ross’s brave avoidance of musical notation and brilliant use of metaphorical and descriptive language, means that The Rest is Noise grapples with the actual stuff of music as few other books have done. And if you want to hear the sounds themselves, you can always go to his website at www.therestisnoise.com and listen.’ TLS
    • ‘Print is silent. Which is why the task of writing about music is so difficult. I should therefore probably explain that the noise you now ought to be hearing is the sound of my hands as they stop typing and start applauding this vital, engaging, happily polyphonic book.’ Peter Conrad, Observer
    • ‘This is a long book and a slow read: slow not because it is especially difficult, but because it is full of material you really need to savour. It is the superb selection of image and anecdote that makes this book work so well. Best of all are the moments when Ross really strikes you dumb with wonder, moments when the author’s passion for the supreme significance of music raises his erudition to a new level. Warm, joyful and unfailingly adroit in his evocation of music in words – Ross, with this book, establishes himself as the supreme champion of modern music. Read this and listen.’ Sunday Times
    • ‘Ross will whisk you on to the fast–moving train that was 20th–century music; he will fascinate, challenge and delight you, but above all he will never, ever patronise you.’ Stephen Pritchard, Observer Music Monthly

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