Guardian First Book Award

Simon Willis

Alex Ross has won this year’s Guardian First Book Award for
The Rest is Noise
, a history of twentieth-century classical music. Announcing Ross’s victory at a ceremony in London last night, the Guardian’s editor,
Alan Rusbridger
, himself an accomplished music critic, said that having read the book ‘you won’t be able to hear any twentieth-century music, from Strauss through to Radiohead and Bjork, the same way’.

With The Rest is Noise, Ross sought to bring the composers of the twentieth century back in from the cultural cold. He has said that ‘While paintings of Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, and lines from T. S. Eliot are quoted on the yearbook pages of alienated teenagers across the land, twentieth-century classical music still sends ripples of unease through audiences.’ The book explores and explains why and how composers such as Schoenberg, Berg and John Cage, so often maligned for their difficulty, broke from the music of the past, reinvented musical forms, and interpreted the political, social and artistic travails of their present. Critics have praised the book for its mix of minute musical analysis, grand historical narrative and metaphorical flare.

The award is the latest addition to a long list of successes for The Rest is Noise. Last year it won the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism and was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction. It also attracted ‘Best Book’ nominations from the
New York Times
, the
Washington Post
and the
LA Times
, among others. In the UK it was shortlisted for the 2008 Samuel Johnson Prize, where it lost out to Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.

Claire Armistead, the chair of the judges for last night’s award who also sat on the panel for the Samuel Johnson, said today that the success of The Rest is Noise proves that ‘there is a huge appetite among readers for clear, serious but accessible books’.

Listen to Alan Rusbridger read from his
essay on music
, published in Granta 76.

Jason Cowley discusses the
difficulties of writing well about music
, and the talents of Alex Ross

For, Roy Robins explained why some novelists


Granta 93
, Maureen Freely interviewed 2006
Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk

Read pieces by some of the Nobel laureates published in Granta:
Doris Lessing
Orhan Pamuk
Harold Pinter
Seamus Heaney
, and
Nadine Gordimer



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