Beauty Amid the Discord: Music in the 20th Century

Alex Ross

Alex Ross weaves a tale of the 20th century through its music in his new book, The Rest Is Noise. Photo: David Michalek hide caption

itoggle caption Photo: David Michalek

20th Century Classics

Hear some of Alex Ross' top picks of the 20th century.

Arnold Schoenberg (self portrait)

Arnold Schoenberg (Self-Portrait, 1910) pioneered atonal music in the first decade of the 20th century. (Image by permission of Belmont Music Publishers) hide caption

itoggle caption (Image by permission of Belmont Music Publishers)

Apart from a few popular composers who wrote memorable melodies — Copland, Gershwin, Debussy — the music of the 20th century is still viewed with a surprising amount of skepticism.

In his new book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, Alex Ross wonders why paintings by modernists such as Jackson Pollock sell for millions while challenging pieces of music, from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring onward, still make many listeners uneasy.

In his book, Ross explores the richness of music in the 20th century, explains how it evolved from the late romantic formulas, and sets the century's great composers within their vibrant, and sometimes violent, social and artistic terrain.

Ross is best known for his insightful music criticism in The New Yorker. He recently spoke with Robert Siegel about his new book, as well as the lingering reputation of 20th-century music as "difficult listening."

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The Rite of Spring

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Album
The Rite of Spring
Artist
Igor Stravinsky
Label
SONY
Released
1988

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Sibelius: Symphonies 4-7

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Album
Sibelius: Symphonies 4-7
Artist
Herbert Von Karajan
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
1999

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Music for 18 Musicians

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Album
Music for 18 Musicians
Artist
Steve Reich
Label
Nonesuch
Released
2006

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Quartet for the End of Time

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Album
Quartet for the End of Time
Artist
Olivier Messiaen
Label
DELOS
Released
1986

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