Reviews for Rest Is Noise : Listening to the Twentieth Century

Book News Reviews
Ross (music critic for The New Yorker) tells the story of 20th century classical composition, which for him is an "untamed art, and unassimilated underground." While composers from Richard Strauss to John Adams lie at the heart of the narrative, Ross also places them within a social and political world, describing the politicians, dictators, corporate officers, art patrons, intellectuals, and critics who have attempted to adjudicate and control musical expression and the social upheavals that impacted the lives of composers and the music they produced. He also goes beyond the genre confines of classical to discuss connections to such artists as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, the Beatles, and the Velvet Underground. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Booklist Reviews 2007 October #2
Emerging from the Romantic era, music in the twentieth century broke away from consonant harmony, melodic focus, and steady rhythms to essay dissonant and atonal elements and complex, wild rhythms. Influenced by cultural events and nationalism, classical composers pursued logical structures and abstract forms, submerging emotional content. French impressionists began the atonal revolution that evolved into the dodecaphonic system of Schoenberg and his disciples. Meanwhile, jazz and world music influenced American composers in the 1920s. After World War II, random and aleatoric music came of age with Cage and Babbitt, and the hippie era of the 1960s allowed freedom to experiment without bounds. The 1970s saw the growth of minimalism, and since then, classical music has turned back toward tonality and classical forms. Ross, the New Yorker's music critic, successfully blends biography, musical analysis, history, and commentary from each area of the arts into a taut exposition of the evolution and devolution of music of the twentieth century, a complex fabric woven from all the elements that went into modern music. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2008 April
Ross, the formidable New Yorker music critic, here takes a new approach to 20th-century music. Instead of putting music in the context of 20th-century history, he uses music as the context for history. Major historical events and composers of masterworks become the featured performers. For example, at the end of his discussion of Schoenberg, the author offers a brilliant comparison of the ends of Alban Berg's Wozzeck and Claude Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande as representative depictions of orphans of the fin de siecle. Benjamin Britten gets the most sympathetic treatment of all in Ross's analysis of Peter Grimes. This is scholarship at its best--masterful and approachable. Ross provides new photographs and takes advantage of sources previously untapped for such discussion, e.g., Hitler's speeches and Goebbels' diary. This volume joins such classics as Charles Rosen's The Classical Style (CH, Jul'97, 34-6194) and The Romantic Generation (CH, Sep'95, 33-0209). Extensive bibliographic reference notes serve well. Unfortunately, Ross replaces musical examples with chord descriptions, a strange and disconcerting choice in a book of such sophistication. Summing Up: Essential. All readers, all levels. Copyright 2008 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2007 September #1
The music critic for the New Yorker tells the story of the 20th century through its music. Ross explores "the cultural predicament of the composer," tracking how the composer's role has changed from its privileged status in fin-de-siècle Europe, where people like Mahler were celebrated like rock stars, to the composer's current status, compromised by the advent of mass communication, the Great Depression, World War II and America's rise as a global superpower. The author is a careful historian aware of the pitfalls of conventional histories about music since 1900. He calls such histories "teleological tales," narratives under the shadow of Arnold Schoenberg--the German composer and champion of atonality--that myopically focus on a particular goal of the study of music history and omit that which doesn't fit into the achievement of that goal. Ross cites Jean Sibelius as an example, devoting an entire chapter to the troubled Finnish composer, whose music was acclaimed in his lifetime but has since been marginalized by historians who qualify him as a "nationalist" composer, implying his music lacks universal resonance. Ironically, Ross notes, Sibelius has influenced contemporary composers perhaps more than Schoenberg. In choosing to eschew the convenience of these streamlined teleological tales, the author is faced with a complicated matrix of styles, ideas and personalities. But this is no plodding history. With his typically lyrical and attentive style, the author presents a lucid, often gripping story of a complex century.A must-read for those who have struggled with understanding modern music and a benchmark book that should eventually become a classic history of the 20th century. Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2007 June #2
Modern music remains too modern for most people, but New Yorker critic Ross shows how influential it has actually been. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews 2007 October #1

While there are numerous books on the subject of 20th-century music, this is the first to take a comprehensive, post-2000 view of the tumultuous and untidy but fascinating history of music and culture from 1900 to 2000. Ross, an award-winning music critic for The New Yorker , details--in 15 chapters organized into three large chronological sections (i.e., 1900-33, 1933-45, and 1945-2000)--the personalities, the ideological battles, and, of course, the musical works that helped to define their era. Among the large themes that Ross tackles are the widening gulf between classical and popular music and the inability of contemporary music to command the attention and respect afforded other modern artistic endeavors, such as art, architecture, and literature. Though the narrative is lively and at times dramatic, the text is supported by serious research; copious endnotes draw on both popular and scholarly writing. There are no examples in musical notation, and the language is comprehensible to the layperson. Despite a surprisingly short list of suggested listening that omits some major composers (e.g., Paul Hindemith, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Philip Glass), this rich and engrossing history is highly recommended for all collections.--Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 July #3

Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker , leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich's downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives--such as Shostakovich's struggles under the Soviet regime--make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out--in precise but readily accessible language--the notes that link Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears. (Oct.)

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