Music: Open ears and minds break down the walls of sound

The folk who commission music titles have begun to catch up with the state of our ears. Music lovers who switch happily between Bach and Björk, Miles and Monteverdi, still find that most books – like the industry – stumble along under the burden of primitive genre divisions. At last, 2008 saw two majestic works that herald a new eclecticism. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by New Yorker critic Alex Ross (Fourth Estate, £20) ranks as my non-fiction book of the year. Erudite but engaging, written with flair and passion, it traces the fate of composition from Mahler and Strauss through Ellington and Sibelius to the Velvet Underground. Ross has a dazzling grasp of the dialectics of taste, technology and society. Björk herself (the latest of his genre-bending heroes) lauds him on the cover – and rightly so.

Tim Blanning in The Triumph of Music (Allen Lane, £25) begins in 1700, arranges his survey around themes – from venues and audiences to romantic icons like Beethoven or Eric Clapton – but ends up singing from many of the same scores as Ross. He, too, moves with effortless assurance between forms and modes, gliding, say, from Parsifal to John Coltrane with a melismatic ease.

One key icon of the new pluralism is John Adams, the all-American maestro who learnt how to heal the rift between the Berg-and-Schoenberg modernism he studied by day and the Beatles and Beach Boys he thrilled to at night. His memoir Hallelujah Junction (Faber, £18.99) tells an uplifting tale of frontiers crossed and prejudice routed. As for books with more traditional harmonies, John Lucas's Thomas Beecham: An Obsession with Music (Boydell, £25) did more than portray a charismatic conductor in all his rogueish glory. Via Beecham's career as mover and shaker, Lucas shows how Britain, the "land without music" (as the German insult went) began to mount the podium with pride.

Among pop biographies, Philip Norman's John Lennon (HarperCollins, £25) stood tousled head and shoulders above the rest. Norman uncurls his sleuth's curiosity over 850 addictive pages to present a pivotal 20th-century life. His band may not have been "bigger than Jesus", but millions needed Lennon as poet, prophet, pilgrim – and as victim.

After Norman's mighty concept album, Mark Oliver Everett's Things the Grandchildren Should Know (Little, Brown, £14.99) reads like a quirky indie set. Yet the Eels' frontman breaks the pop-memoir mould thanks to winningly neurotic stories of a rocky childhood with a genius-scientist dad and a self-subverting career. Shoe-gazing was never such fun. Among other memoirs, A Freewheelin' Time by Bob Dylan's Greenwich Village-era partner Suze Rotolo (Aurum, £16.99) shines not so much for its musical insight as for a warm portrait of the New York folk/arts scene of the early 1960s. So close-knit, even parochial, to its inner circle, it changed the sound and mind of the century.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before