The Rest Is Noise--You VILL Enjoy This Book!!

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Modernistfan
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The Rest Is Noise--You VILL Enjoy This Book!!

Post by Modernistfan » Fri Oct 26, 2007 4:05 pm

I got Alex Ross's book, "The Rest Is Noise," about twentieth-century music, last week. If you have any interest at all in any facet of modern music, from Richard Strauss, Mahler, and Schoenberg through Debussy, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Webern, Sibelius, Ives, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Leo Ornstein, Adams, Reich, Glass, Terry Riley, Boulez, Varese, Henze, Schnittke, Stockhausen, and on and on . . . you must read this.

He is non-dogmatic, unusual in this area, where serialists snipe at minimalists and vice versa, which mirrors my own interests. It is about 572 pages, but I couldn't put it down (literally, I was reading it on my way out to the car from my office, didn't watch where I was going, and tripped over a curb).

This is some of the best writing about modern music I have ever encountered. As Schoenberg might have said, "You VILL enjoy this book!" By the way, there was an unbelievable anecdote about a confrontation between Marta Feuchtwanger, the widow of German emigre writer Lion Feuchtwanger, and Schoenberg in the Brentwood Ranch Market in West Los Angeles in 1949. Growing up in Los Angeles, I had a chance to meet Ms. Feuchtwanger when I heard Henri Temianka's quartet play Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" at the UCLA Chancellor's residence when I was in high school. This was my first exposure to live chamber music.
Last edited by Modernistfan on Fri Oct 26, 2007 4:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

elektra
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Seattle Weekly Review

Post by elektra » Fri Oct 26, 2007 4:26 pm

Book Review: The Rest Is Noise
A critical analysis of composition’s past, from Bernstein to Queen.
By Gavin Borchert
October 17, 2007



Perhaps the least combative and doctrinaire of American classical-music critics, The New Yorker's Alex Ross turns out to be a brilliant chronicler of the combative, often stiflingly doctrinaire 20th century. His new book, The Rest Is Noise (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30), is insightful and sensitive in its treatment of the connections between social and musical history—neither welding them together in simplistic cause-and-effect patterns nor separating them in a hermetic let's-just-talk-about-tone-rows approach. And he describes the period's music, much of which still bewilders listeners, with a vividness and enthusiasm that makes you want to hear it immediately.

This is a book about composition, not performance: Callas, Horowitz, Gould, and Pavarotti make no appearance, nor do any hand-wringing financial statistics about North American orchestras. But Ross reveals the composers' world as a complex garden of forking paths.

Here's a 1906 performance of Richard Strauss' Salome with Puccini, Mahler, Schoenberg, and Johann Strauss' widow—and possibly Hitler—in attendance. Shostakovich watches Stalin depart early from a performance of his decidedly un-uplifting opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and fears for his life. Benjamin Britten, staggered by a visit to the recently liberated Bergen-Belsen, sets to music a searing John Donne poem ("Batter my heart, three-person'd God")—a favorite of J. Robert Oppenheimer and probably the inspiration for the test site name "Trinity"—on the same day the first bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. (Sixty years later, John Adams turns the poem into a gripping aria for the Oppenheimer character in his opera Doctor Atomic).


The U.S. Army moves in to rebuild Germany's musical infrastructure after World War II and founds the summer composers' institute at Darmstadt, which becomes the avant-garde's ground zero. Aaron Copland gives his Fanfare for the Common Man a title a bit too close for Cold War comfort to a speech by enthusiastic New Dealer Henry Wallace, and later, under suspicion as a fellow traveler, sees his Lincoln Portrait dropped from an Eisenhower Inauguration Day concert. In a Greenwich Village cabaret in 1962, Lotte Lenya sings songs by her husband, Kurt Weill—Schoenberg's old colleague/adversary—and mesmerizes Bob Dylan. Olivier Messiaen, whose Quartet for the End of Time was premiered in a German stalag, visits the canyons of Utah to drink in inspiration for a bicentennial commission.

In addition to tracing these interactions, Ross makes fascinating, why-didn't-I-think-of-that musical connections: The opening horn call of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony is echoed in the four notes Bernstein used for the words "New York, New York!"; Queen's "Weeee will, weeee will ROCK YOU!" is lifted from that Copland Fanfare.

All of this is in refreshing contrast to the usual historical-imperative version of music history as a long series of begats (or, more benignly, using the organic metaphor: musical style grows and develops as a plant or species does), coupled with the damaging notion that art moves forward only when one idiom replaces another, rather than adding to the composer's palette. Ross devotes sympathetic sections of his book to composers who violated this teleology, like Strauss, Sibelius, and Britten: They kept to their own path and were considered reactionary, as opposed to those who followed the crowd and were dubbed progressive.

Insofar as you can make any musical generalizations about our time, it's probably most useful to consider it the end of the Age of Ideology: that long period when what a musical work represented seemed more important than the way it sounded. The period ran from the 1920s, when composers were madly scrambling for banners to march under (jazz, twelve-tone, surrealism, Marxist agitprop), to the '60s, when composers didn't write pieces so much as position papers. Thirty years ago, hard-liner Charles Wuorinen wrote, "The tonal system...is no longer employed by serious composers of the mainstream"; today the sentence is only accurate if you change "employed" to "argued about."

Composers these days have other battles to fight, and in its generous broad-mindedness Ross' book is emblematic of this spirit, embodied in a quote from his epilogue: "The impulse to pit classical music against pop culture no longer makes intellectual or emotional sense. Young composers have grown up with pop music ringing in their ears, and they make use of it or ignore it as the occasion demands." Ross discounts predestination for a view—an absorbingly readable one—in which individual composers made unique decisions in specific contexts under a hugely

DavidRoss
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Post by DavidRoss » Sat Oct 27, 2007 12:22 am

Sounds like an interesting and informative read. Thanks for calling it to our attention.

Note, however, that your subtitle, "You vill enjoy this book," detered me from opening the thread, rather than encouraging me to do so.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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absinthe
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Post by absinthe » Sat Oct 27, 2007 3:04 am

Maybe I'm in a capricious mood but the subtitle made me open this thread! Nice one. I'm not sure I'd ever have time to read 500 pages on the trot. Can it be assimilated in smaller chunks?

:D

.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:29 am

absinthe wrote:Maybe I'm in a capricious mood but the subtitle made me open this thread! Nice one. I'm not sure I'd ever have time to read 500 pages on the trot. Can it be assimilated in smaller chunks?

:D

.
You want the Cliff Notes version?
Corlyss
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John F
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Post by John F » Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:34 am

_The Rest Is Noise_ is original without being eccentric or polemical, at least as regards high modernism--I haven't gotten to the contemporaries yet. And it's very well written, a fast read. But yes, you can dip in to the chapter of your choice, though it may not be easy to stop.
John Francis

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:40 am

John F wrote:at least as regards high modernism
Oh, dear! Don't tell me there's such a thing as "low modernism!" I didn't think it could get any lower . . .
Corlyss
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absinthe
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Post by absinthe » Sat Oct 27, 2007 5:15 am

High Modernism is an Anglican sect whose performances take place in big, almost empty halls lit only by candles; where the performers don appropriate vestments of black velvet and brocade, especially the conductor and score-bearer. Frankincense is normally burned. This helps hide the ensemble behind a smoke-screen to isolate them from a possibly hostile tomato- (or beer-can)-throwing audience (purely historical nowadays since the Music Equality Act outlawed the throwing of non-organic tomatoes at events more usually staged by the Low Modernists). Although of minor interest (melodic minor, of course), musicians of the High Modernist School still preserve the tradition of 'communion' before playing which accounts for their oft-inebriated grins and possibly deft, daring performances.

It could also account for noises like Richard Barrett's fOKT IV etc.

I will certainly buy this book if it goes into the somewhat chequered history and ritual practices (assuming the musicians actually practice) of High Modernism....

Well, I might....

.

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Post by slofstra » Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:30 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
absinthe wrote:Maybe I'm in a capricious mood but the subtitle made me open this thread! Nice one. I'm not sure I'd ever have time to read 500 pages on the trot. Can it be assimilated in smaller chunks?

:D

.
You want the Cliff Notes version?
Elektra's review posted above is the Cliff Notes version.
Incidentally, it is cut off.

John F
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Post by John F » Sat Oct 27, 2007 5:30 pm

High modernism = Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Bela Bartok, Alban Berg, etc. etc. But you knew that.
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some guy
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Post by some guy » Mon Oct 29, 2007 10:57 pm

I'd like to read this book, really I would.

But as it looks like I'll not have time any time soon, I just want to give a little plug to a book on twentieth century music that's been out there for some time now, that's in its seventh edition (2001) already--David Cope's New Directions in Music.

This is as even-handed and as informative an account as you could wish for, and really beautifully written.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

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Post by Chalkperson » Mon Oct 29, 2007 11:35 pm

I ordered my copy today, I always like his New Yorker pieces... 8)

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Oct 29, 2007 11:52 pm

some guy wrote: its seventh edition (2001) already--David Cope's New Directions in Music.
Edition or printing?
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some guy
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Post by some guy » Tue Oct 30, 2007 1:10 am

Edition.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

Jack Kelso
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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Oct 30, 2007 5:24 am

It sounds like it could be used as a fine reference book as well as a great read.

To Davis Ross: Richard Strauss a "high modernist"?! He belongs to the Elgar/Mahler/Glasounov/Nielsen/Sibelius generation. (He couldn't help it that he lived so long :? )

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

Jack Kelso
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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Oct 30, 2007 5:26 am

Ooops, sorry David! I meant John F...!

Jack :oops:
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

DavidRoss
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Post by DavidRoss » Tue Oct 30, 2007 7:32 am

Jack Kelso wrote:To Davis Ross: Richard Strauss a "high modernist"?! He belongs to the Elgar/Mahler/Glasounov/Nielsen/Sibelius generation.
You left out Debussy, another leading light of that generation. Personally, I think of Elgar and Mahler as late Romantics, Nielsen, Sibelius, and Debussy as quintessentially modern, and believe Strauss's reputation as a modernist stems primarily from Elektra and Salome.

Many labor under the misconception that modernism in music = serialism, or some variant thereof. This would be like equating modernism in art with cubism, or in literature with stream of consciousness.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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BC
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Post by BC » Tue Oct 30, 2007 12:26 pm

I'm looking forward to this. I'm a fan of Ross based on his journalism and blog. Unfortunately, the book isn't published in the UK as yet, although I'm sure I can get my hands on a copy with a bit of effort .

I particularly like his essay "I Hate Classical Music" here:

http://www.therestisnoise.com/2004/05/m ... ome_6.html

One suspects this may have influenced Richard Taruskin's similarly themed essay here, which also had me nodding vigorously:

http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html? ... 638e30448a

Jack Kelso
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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Oct 31, 2007 1:32 am

DavidRoss wrote:
Jack Kelso wrote:To Davis Ross: Richard Strauss a "high modernist"?! He belongs to the Elgar/Mahler/Glasounov/Nielsen/Sibelius generation.
You left out Debussy, another leading light of that generation. Personally, I think of Elgar and Mahler as late Romantics, Nielsen, Sibelius, and Debussy as quintessentially modern, and believe Strauss's reputation as a modernist stems primarily from Elektra and Salome.

Many labor under the misconception that modernism in music = serialism, or some variant thereof. This would be like equating modernism in art with cubism, or in literature with stream of consciousness.
Of course, the "modern era" in music is a gradual development, like Romanticism was. There are modernist elements in Mahler, Nielsen and Impressionism, but to me the first pure modern masters were Ives, Schoenberg (plus Berg and Webern), and the neo-classicists Bartok, Hindemith and Stravinsky.

Labels are largely a matter of taste. For some, Beethoven was the first Romanticist---for others, the last Classicist. I even read somewhere that Paganini was the "torchlight of Romanticism" :) !

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by Chalkperson » Wed Oct 31, 2007 10:24 am

I received my copy yesterday, very readable...

SONNET CLV
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the book

Post by SONNET CLV » Thu Nov 01, 2007 8:17 pm

Am ordering a copy. Sure sounds more informative than MODERN MUSIC FOR DUMMIES.


--SONNET CLV (currently listening to Dvorak's Third from the Otmar Suitner set -- good stuff)--

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Post by John F » Sun Nov 04, 2007 7:17 am

Jack Kelso wrote:Richard Strauss a "high modernist"?!
"Salome," with which Ross begins his narrative in 1906, is definitely in the modernist mode and not at all like "Elgar/Mahler/Glasounov/Nielsen/Sibelius." In his younger years Strauss was well ahead of his time. That he backed off with "Der Rosenkavalier" and fell behind his time is certainly true, but does not change the nature and influence of "Salome."
John Francis

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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Nov 06, 2007 1:11 am

John F wrote:
Jack Kelso wrote:Richard Strauss a "high modernist"?!
"Salome," with which Ross begins his narrative in 1906, is definitely in the modernist mode and not at all like "Elgar/Mahler/Glasounov/Nielsen/Sibelius." In his younger years Strauss was well ahead of his time. That he backed off with "Der Rosenkavalier" and fell behind his time is certainly true, but does not change the nature and influence of "Salome."
Agreed, but his symphonic music never goes beyond Mahler. Are you familiar with Nielsen's Fifth Symphony?

Tschüß!
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by John F » Tue Nov 06, 2007 12:37 pm

> Agreed, but his symphonic music never goes beyond Mahler.

The point is that Ross has good reason to begin his survey of modern music with Strauss's Salome. Whatever else Strauss composed is beside this particular point.

> Are you familiar with Nielsen's Fifth Symphony?

Sure, but why do you ask?
John Francis

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Nov 06, 2007 1:10 pm

Mind you, the subtitle of Ross's book is Listening to the Twentieth Century, not listening to modernism. So the premiere of Salome is an excellent point d'appui.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Nov 07, 2007 1:13 am

John F wrote:> Are you familiar with Nielsen's Fifth Symphony?

Sure, but why do you ask?
Because it is really very harmonically and orchestrally advanced for its time (as symphonies go :) ). Highly expressive and "modern"!

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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