"You don't have to be an aficionado of modern music to love this book: Alex Ross’s extraordinary gifts as a writer, his deep knowledge of music, and his fresh forays into cultural history make The Rest is Noise a complete delight."—Jean Strouse, author of Morgan: American Financier
"The Rest Is Noise reads like a sprawling, intense novel, one of utopian dreams, doom, and consolation, with the most extraordinary cast of characters from music and history alike."—Osvaldo Golijov
“With every page you turn, the story departs further from the old fairy tale of giants bestriding the earth and looks more like the twentieth century we remember, with fallible human beings reacting to, reflecting, and affecting with symbolic sounds a flux of conditions and events created by other fallible human beings. And turn the pages you do."—Richard Taruskin, author of the Oxford History of Western Music
"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-siecle 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."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"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."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism, a Holtzbrinck Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, a Fleck Fellowship from the Banff Centre, and a Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center for significant contributions to the field of contemporary music.
Alex Ross talks about the New York City music scene and how he developed his taste in classical and popular music.