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Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music Paperback – April, 2003

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

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"Robert Reilly is at all times attuned to a composer's spiritual inner strength but balanced by a vital and original intellectual stamina. He is a pleasure to read and a treasure to cherish."
-- David Diamond, Composer


"Reilly's vision of music is profoundly spiritual, expressive of what is best and most enriching in human life, and having the possibility of leading us to encounter God Himself."
-- Stephen Hough, Composer and Pianist


"Reilly is a critic with open ears and a disciplined mind that helps him to understand and explain the larger significance of what he's hearing."

--Terry Teachout, Music Critic, Commentary

"Thanks to Robert Reilly for his clear and unequivocal chronicling of the recovery of the truth of music's deepest connection with that which is numinous and, indeed, sacred."
-- Samuel Jones, Composer


"Reilly brings his impressive knowledge of music to bear on the most human of our experiences with a refreshing clarity and personal directness. More than anything else, Surprised by Beauty makes us glad."
-- Peter Kalkavage, Modern Age


"It is rare that one can offer such unbounded enthusiasm for a book about modern music, yet I can confidently state that this book is a joy for both layman and music expert alike. Surprised by Beauty provides a valuable and illuminating perspective, all while providing the surprise promised in the title."

--Mark Nowakowski, Foundation for the Sacred Arts

"Reilly is very good in talking about the philosophy and history of music, and the importance of modern music, especially sacred music, but also its beauty. It is this beauty that Reilly makes every effort in this excellent book to teach us how to find."
-- James V. Schall, S.J., Georgetown University


"This book is a work of love. Every page is filled with longing for beauty, yearning for the transcendent to be made perceptible. Reilly is a faithful guide and will lead many of his readers to musical beauty where they did not expect to find it."
-- Christopher Flannery, Claremont Review of Books


"Robert Reilly has done music lovers a service by reminding us that 'modern music' and 'beauty' are not always enemies."

--Lee Bockhorn, Weekly Standard --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Robert R. Reilly was the music critic for Crisis magazine for 16 years, and reviews concerts and operas for Ionarts. He has written for High Fidelity, Musical America, Schwann/Opus, and the American Record Guide. In his 25 years in government, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the White House under President Ronald Reagan, and the U. S. Information Agency. He was also the director of Voice of America. He has published widely on foreign policy, "war of ideas" issues, and classical music. He is the author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind and other books.


Jens F. Laurson writes an online classical music column for Forbes and contributes to Listen magazine. His writing has won the Deems Taylor Award granted by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Morley Books; 1st edition (April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0966059743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0966059748
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,016,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Robert Reilly's "Surprised by Beauty - A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music" has been with me since it's publication. It is one of the most heavily book-marked, annotated books I have - and much cherished.

This book is perhaps not perfect and it is probably not first-order-brilliant either, but it is beautiful! I treasure it as much as I treasure much of the music that I have since enjoyed because of this book.

Surprised by Beauty is highly spiritual. Stephen Hough, the wonderful pianist who records for hyperion (interviewed in the book), says on the jacket cover:

"Robert Reilly has the unusual and delightful ability to infect the reader with insatiable curiosity about the composers he champions. Names that often were unknown, and sometimes unpronounceable, suddenly seem totally fascinating and worthy of discovery at the earliest opportunity. Yet beyond this level of exploration is his personal vision of music as something profoundly spiritual, expressive of what is best and most enriching in human life and having the possibility of leading us to encounter God Himself."
That is a good introduction to Surprised by Beauty. The opening quote of the book is from Max Picard: "[In] sound intself, there is a readiness to be ordered by the spirit, and this is seen at its most sublime in music."

The love for music never ceases to impress - and as knowledgeable a man as Mr. Reilly is always a pleasure to have along for instruction.
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A topic that has surprisingly little exploration, music that was passed over for being only beautiful. Reilly goes back through the 20th century to encourage the reader to look again at the great works that were created by composers who's only mistake was to not be shocking or original(or politically connected) enough for the artsy modernist music mafia.
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I should say right off that I am deliberately taking my time to read this book & haven't read every chapter yet. I know of nothing quite like it, though. A feature I want, at this point, particularly to commend is the way the author has (1) of conveying his delight in, and the meaningfulness of, the music as he has experienced it, while (2) somehow saying enough that this reader, at least, can distinguish between the sure bets and the iffy ones from the reader's own point of view. Thus I credit Reilly (and the wonderful Samuel Palmer cover art) for putting me on to the Chandos recordings of the symphonies of Edmund Rubbra -- once I bought and listened to a CD of his symphonies 4, 10, & 11, I knew I would want more. One of Reilly's fine columns in Crisis Magazine put me on to Joly Braga Santos -- sure enough, I enjoyed the work (Symphony #4) praised there, as well. The Naxos CD of Douglas Lilburn's symphonies is another example. On the other hand, while Reilly likes Martinu and Nielsen, what he says about these composers conveys important things about their work such that someone like me who is not enchanted would have sufficient warning that this is someone to hear first before buying. I hope that in a few years there can be a sequel to this book. In the meantime, I'm glad to have a copy of Surprised by Beauty and to be able to read Mr. Reilly's columns in Crisis.
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Format: Paperback
Being a neophyte in modern classical music I'm very much in need of a guiding hand and Reilly's book has been the most helpful yet to boost up my appreciation of music and Beauty for that matter. His writings not only assure the validity of my fears or `sense of barbarian for not understanding the meaning of the sounds' I have been listening to, but endow a refreshing and profound understanding of how modern music can be free from its praise of entanglement. It has been a delightful and moving experience to read Reilly's so unique and exquisite way of illustrating modern composer's journeys into their pledge for Beauty. He brings you close enough and candidly to their emotions and struggles in a timely historic ambiance as to appreciate even more their daring willingness to come up with beautiful music! No doubt his has been `a labor of love for music'- one can actually hear the resonance of the Spirit of Music without having started on his recommendations!"Surprised by Beauty" was definitely a wonderful Christmas present and I highly recommend his reading!
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