The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross

The Rest Is Noise

By Alex Ross

  • Release Date: 2009-03-05
  • Genre: Music
Score: 4.5
From 6 Ratings
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Alex Ross’s sweeping history of twentieth-century classical music, winner of the Guardian First Book Award, is a gripping account of a musical revolution.

The landscape of twentieth-century classical music is a wild one: this was a period in which music fragmented into apparently divergent strands, each influenced by its own composers, performers and musical innovations. In this comprehensive tour, Alex Ross, music critic for the ‘New Yorker’, explores the people and places that shaped musical development: Adams to Zweig, Brahms to Björk, pre-First World War Vienna to ‘Nixon in China’.

Above all, this unique portrait of an exceptional era weaves together art, politics and cultural history to show how twentieth-century classical music was both a symptom and a source of immense social change.


‘Alex Ross's incredibly nourishing book will rekindle anyone's fire for music.’ Björk

‘A brilliant, bracing account of all the different kinds of “classical” music that have permeated this last dark century. Such an entertaining, accessible and enthralling book.’ Colin Greenwood, Guardian

‘It’s a history of 20th-century music so vivid and original in approach that it made me listen again to many pieces I thought I knew well.’ Philip Pullman, Guardian

‘Ranks as my non-fiction book of the year. Erudite and engaging, written with flair and passion.’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent

‘Combines scrupulous and inventive analyses of the 20th century’s music with lavish care over that music’s improvised history.’ Adam Thirlwell, Guardian

‘Magisterial.’ Telegraph

‘He places the music in social and cultural context while sticking to the score and eschewing the artworld political consensus. A miracle.’ George Walden, TLS

‘”The Rest is Noise” achieves the aim with bravura, hacking out a path leading from cacophonous European modernism to the white noise of The Velvet Underground.’ Ludovic Hunter-Tilroy, Financial Times

‘Alex Ross breaks new ground. This is an astonishing book.’ The Times

'Just occasionally someone writes a book you've waited your life to read. Alex Ross's enthralling history of 20th-century music is, for me, one of those books.' Alan Rusbridger, Guardian

‘Stunning narrative. Visionary music critic Alex Ross comes closer than anyone to describing the spellbinding sensations music provokes.’ Financial Times

‘A work of immense scope and ambition … a great achievement. Rilke once wrote of how he learned to stand “more seeingly” in front of certain paintings. Ross enables us to listen more hearingly.’ New York Times

'A sound-drenched masterpiece.' Steven Poole, Guardian

About the author

Alex Ross has been the music critic of the ‘New Yorker’ since 1996. From 1992 to 1996 he wrote for the ‘New York Times’. His first book, ‘The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century’, published in 2007, was awarded the Guardian First Book Award and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer and Samuel Johnson prizes. In 2008 he became a MacArthur Fellow. A native of Washington, DC, he now lives in Manhattan.


  • Excellent and essential reading

    By johnkmercer
    Before this book was published, If you wanted to gain an insight into the history and theories of contemporary music, you would be sent to the corner of the library and presented with a musicologists delight - a wide range of books varying from trite reminiscences to deep theories of tone rows in all their glories. You would struggle to get an overall impression of the subject and would end up with some names being larger in the mind that they deserve (because of their literary output) and others passed over for lack of not having written a theory book. This volume gives a coherent and proportionate account of the 20th century. It has divided the century into three clear chunks with the War years and Hitlers Germany taking a prominent role in the second part. The survey of the most recent years is a particular delight as writers are largely still trying to find way of linking the 'anything goes' fin de ciecle modern and post-modern works. If you only ever read one book about Modern Music this should be it. MJKM
  • Readable and informative

    By Ben Moon
    This is a good book that explores a complex and difficult subject. The first thing to say is that is extraordinarily readable. I am a musician, but have not studied the theory in any depth. Through the Twentieth Century, pushing techniques has been a lot of the force of progress. Jargon is used sparingly and always explained clearly. It's book follows a chronological narrative with each chapter being devoted to specific periods or genres and their main proponents discussed within. While the earlier chapters tend to focus upon fewer composers—the first chapter encompasses Mahler and Strauss, and almost whole chapter is dedicated to Sibelius. Later chapters reflect the more complex landscape with biographies of more composers. The best recommendation I can give is to take the plunge and read. As a general interest book on 100 years of music it is both enlightening and interesting. At the end is a list of recommended listening and recordings to take you through further discovery of the book.