- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374187746
- ISBN-13: 978-0374187743
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 24 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Listen to This Hardcover – September 28, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this brilliant collection, music critic Ross (The Rest Is Noise) utilizes a wide musical scale--classical music in China; opera as popular art; sketches of Schubert, Bjork, Kiki and Herb--as a way of understanding the world. Featuring mostly revised essays published in the span of his 12-year career at the New Yorker, Ross offers timeless portraits that probe the ways that the powerful personalities of composers and musicians stamp an inherently abstract medium so that certain notes, songs, or choruses become instantly recognizable as the work of a certain artist. The virtuoso performance comes in the one previously unpublished essay, Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues, where Ross isolates three different bass lines as they wind through music history from the 16th-century chacona, a dance that promised the upending of the social order, through the laments of Bach, opera, and finally the blues. Ross nimbly finds the common ground on which 16th-century Spanish musicians, Bach, players from Ellington' s 1940 band and Led Zeppelin' s bassist John Paul Jones can stand, at least momentarily.
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Full of surprises and sharp observations, this “absorbing, illuminating, exciting collection” (San Francisco Chronicle) gives equal billing to pop stars and classical composers, crossing musical margins with remarkable fluidity. Though they bear the New Yorker’s signature style, most critics upheld Ross’s writing as eloquent and thoughtful, in language accessible to both laypersons and connoisseurs (although aficionados may have an easier time with the details). The Washington Post complained that the essays lacked excitement and literary “zing,” but others praised Ross for the sense of adventure that imbues each piece. Readers may find it difficult to resist Ross’s enthusiasm, and Listen To This will no doubt take an honored place on many a bookshelf.
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LISTEN TO THIS proves to be far more episodic than THE REST IS NOISE. In contrast to that book's linear chronology, LISTEN TO THIS is simply a collection of essays on various musical subjects, most of which have already been published in Ross's primary meal ticket, THE NEW YORKER magazine. But LISTEN TO THIS is no less riveting, as Ross's engaging writing is by turns emotional (the sentimental chapter on Lorraine Hunt Lieberson), intelligent (he chronicles the entire musical history of a particular walking bass line in chapter two) and funny (the many on-campus scenes he depicts involving Marlboro College in "The Music Mountain"). Also, since it includes chapters on a wide variety of musicians, from Mozart to Dylan to Bjork to contemporary Chinese classical composers, LISTEN TO THIS truly does have "something for everyone," and reading through all of the essays is a great way to expose yourself to new music in which you may not have had any prior interest. Personally, I was less than enthused about reading the chapters on Schubert and Brahms, for example, but after making my way through them - which I ultimately considered more of a joy than a chore - I found myself researching more historical facts and seeking out samples of their music. It is a testament to Ross's skills as a writer that he has long been inspiring this effect in many of his readers. Don't be surprised if you pick up a Marian Anderson record or develop a sudden peculiar liking for obscure Chinese composer Qigang Chen after reading this book! Ross even makes it easy on us by providing a "suggested listening" section on each chapter, in which he recommends a slew of recordings.
Ross isn't without his flaws, however: he is far more comfortable when covering classical subjects than pop or rock, as evinced by the rather bland chapter on Radiohead (though he fares better with Bjork, weaving comparisons of her music to the Icelandic classical tradition throughout that chapter). Also, the chapter "Edges of Pop" is without any real thesis - only offering brief glimpses at a small smorgasbord of oddball musical artists.
Regardless, anyone with even a remote interest in classical or rock music would be hard pressed not to find inspiration and insight in LISTEN TO THIS. Alex Ross's devout love of music bleeds off of every page, without fail, directly into the heart of the reader.
He does lament the state of classical music in his preface- which may be a bit dated, or he hasn't been facing East considering what has been uploaded on Youtube recently (quite a direct social barometer)- it is plain to see (literally) that the Classical Baton has been passed from West to East- it has been taken up wholeheartedly and with a youthful, energetic, innocent enthusiasm never realized in the West- it is treated more like pop culture there (sans the gratuitous themes of decadence and death plaguing the West).
I'm sure one of his purposes must be to bring relevance to classical music again, and to do that he had to explore the music that is currently relevant. He has a monumental task, for higher art in the West seems to be mired in glossy photos, receptions, and résumés, losing touch with the basic forces of (and fundamental reasons for) art, being more about the artist turning his back on the audience, and the audience is supposed to like it? Just what is going through the narcissistic minds of Western performers/composers these days? I'd say it verges on artistic cluelessness, and I am saying that angrily. He says today's composers hail from China, Estonia, Argentina, and Queens- as far as artistic relevance is concerned I would take that to a much further extreme...
Like I said, thought-provoking, and I'll add stirring...
This book of essays is based on articles he wrote for the New Yorker and the New York Times from the late 1990's, until 2011. The essays cover everything from the musical history of the descending chromatic bass line (also known as the "lament," and "the walking blues"), to Bjork and Radiohead, and Bach, Brahms, and Bob ... as in Bob Dylan. Along the way, Mr. Ross captures the many ways music communicates deeper emotions than can be expressed in words, as in his description of Peter Lieberson's song for his dying wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, "Sonnet XCII."
As with Mr. Ross's previous work, "The Rest if Noise," I have nothing but superlatives. If you love music, you'll want to read this book.