Most Helpful First | Newest First
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Composing Classical Music from 1900-1950,
I loved the title. How many times I've heard people describe music that employs dissonance or isn't to their taste as "just noise."
New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has fun with that concept by suggesting that various types of classical music written since Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring often have more in common than you would expect. His constant references back to common elements among the schools is a particular strength of this book.
Mr. Ross clearly favors those works that have gained the broadest audiences. Those who mainly experiment for themselves and small audiences don't receive much attention, even when their advances are conceptually significant for expanding what can be done with composition.
What's the style of the book like? I can best compare it to reading extended program notes where you connect the dots between one night's performances and the rest of the season's series. In addition, he is a little more candid about the personal lives of the composers than most program notes would provide. He seems particularly interested in exploring the homosexual and lesbian tendencies of the composers and the various musical figures he writes about.
I was very impressed by Mr. Ross's ability to explain various innovations, many of which are unfamiliar to me. He employs a combination of metaphors, references to other musical works, and scientific explanations to get the points across. In doing so, he displays excellent ability to conceptualize and to write about music.
My main regret as a I read the book was that it didn't have a companion CD set that would allow me to quickly listen to the works that he is describing. Although I obviously didn't need that for the works that have become standards in the repertoire, many references aren't to anything very standard.
Mr. Ross also seeks to describe the twentieth century as seen through its composers. Although he certainly develops some useful themes like the role that governments play in encouraging and discouraging composition, I thought that this aspect of the book worked less well by being incomplete. But where important themes were addressed, the material certainly was interesting.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do we hate modern classical music? Now we know.,
The revelation came in the form of explaining why we hate modern classical music so very much. The reason is poetry. Modern classical music is like modern poetry; if you can't read it, you can't appreciate it. Imagine hearing a poem by e e cummings. Unless you see the text, you've missed the lack of punctuation, the spacing, the geometric splashing of the words on paper. You've missed 90% of it by only hearing it. I didn't know that about modern classical music. Now I understand.
So with modern classical music. Unless you can read music, and have the music in front of you, you cannot possibly appreciate the progressions, the geometry, the calculus of the piece. That is why composers cited by Ross have taken their bows facing the orchestra, sticking their butts out towards the audience. The audience be damned; they can't possibly appreciate it. Only musicians can enter the temple. At numerous points towards the end, melody is identified as a horror to be avoided at all costs. Astonishing peer pressure among composers ensures that no one steps out of line and writes something pleasant to hear. The objective is to break new ground in sound, but call it music.
You can look at modern classical as movie soundtrack, and of course many composers earned their living that way. They fill in moods, complement scenes, create atmospheres. But even that has gone away. Today, it's all about mathematics, it seems. Twelve tones, interminable repetition, and instrument abuse are the cornerstones as composers seek to stand out from the pack.
Too bad. The public just wanted a diverting night out on the town. A tune they could hum on the way home. Composers have joined the establishment in their own anti-establishment way. Like banks and health insurance companies - the customer be damned. We're doing what we want, for us. Period. Alex Ross explains it all in fascinating detail. My only criticism is his website. How wonderful it would be if every musical description in the book had a sound file counterpart, referenced to that same chapter and page, on the website. Then we could hear what he described in such incredible detail and evaluate and appreciate his analysis and description of it. Maybe even fit it into context. As it stands, there are some clips, but that's about it. Too bad, but hardly a reason not to buy this important work of love.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MAKES SENSE OF THE NOISE,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I am a performing musician and a professor of music. I have peformed in everything from a punk band to symphony orchestras. These days I primarily play in a free form jazz group and in a noise group.
I teach a music history course and a history of jazz and blues.
I am quite aware of 20th century music and have a familiarity with most of the composers discussed in the book. In the 1960s when I was attending Manhattan School of Music I was also attending all the avant garde concerts in such places as Carnegie Recital Hall and the Columbia University auditorium (where I had performed as a student in the Columbia Symphony).
I am a huge fan of people like Cage and Stockhausen. And of Eliot Carter and Gunther Schuller. I am not a great fan of minimalism but I do understand its importance. I am also a huge fan of some of the more "out" jazz, especially the music of Mingus, Max Roach, Monk, and Coltrane, as well as some of the more avant garde music coming out on small labels.
What this book does is to create a narrative showing how the century unfolded and how different developments influenced later developments, whether directly or in reaction to what had come before.
I also like how Ross brings in how various pop musicians have been influenced by classical composers. As I like to point out in my class, there would be no Beatles if there had been no Beethoven, it seems there would be no Beatles if there had been no Stockhausen.
Putting this altogether in a way that makes sense is a real achievement.
My only criticism is that Ross could have been a bit more explicit about some of the developments in jazz and how sililar they are to developments in classical music.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rest is noise,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Paperback)This is a brilliant book! As one who has listened but not understood or liked very much of 20th century music, it was a revelation of staggering proportions. I cannot read music, but Ross' explanation of the technical terms gave me enought musical notation literacy to understand the work. It finally put so much into perspective for me; it is like being given a whole treasure chest full of goodies. It was a wonderful experience to read it and even more wonderful to be able to listed to a great deal of very good music properly for the first time. Be forwarned - you will be hauntng music stores and emptying your bank acocunt after reading this book. But loving every minute of it.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross (Paperback - Oct 14 2008)
CDN$ 22.00 CDN$ 15.88