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The best music of the 20th century "developed our capacity for feeling, deepened our compassion, and furthered our quest for and understanding of what Aristotle called 'the perfect end of life' ".
— from the Foreword by NPR music critic Ted Libbey
The single greatest crisis of the 20th century was the loss of faith. Noise—and its acceptance as music—was the product of the resulting spiritual confusion and, in its turn, became the further cause of its spread. Likewise, the recovery of modern music, the theme to which this book is dedicated, stems from a spiritual recovery. This is made explicitly clear by the composers whose interviews with the author are collected in this book.
Robert Reilly spells out the nature of the crisis and its solution in sections that serve as bookends to the chapters on individual composers. He does not contend that all of these composers underwent and recovered from the central crisis he describes, but they all lived and worked within its broader context, and soldiered on, writing beautiful music. For this, they suffered ridicule and neglect, and he believes their rehabilitation will change the reputation of modern music.
It is the spirit of music that this book is most about, and in his efforts to discern it, Reilly has discovered many treasures. The purpose of this book is to share them, to entice you to listen—because beauty is contagious. English conductor John Eliot Gardiner writes that experiencing Bach's masterpieces "is a way of fully realizing the scale and scope of what it is to be human". The reader may be surprised by how many works of the 20th and 21st centuries of which this is also true.
"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
— Stephen Hough, Composer and Pianist p>"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
— Peter Kalkavage, Modern Age p>"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
— Christopher Flannery, Claremont Review of Books p>"Robert Reilly has done music lovers a service by reminding us that 'modern music' and 'beauty' are not always enemies."
— Lee Bockhorn, Weekly Standard