The Rest is Noise
By Alex Ross
Review by Bruce
I urge you not to be put off by the size of this book: at nearly 550 pages it is undeniably a large volume, but it is engagingly written and I found myself drawn in quickly to the atmospheric depictions of events and suggestive descriptions of people that populate this narrative of music in the twentieth century.
Running from Mahler and Strauss to the Velvet Underground the intertwined narratives of politics and music in the last century are given a fresh telling. Any who have been told the unrevised story of the Second Viennese School being the definition of Modern Music and everything else being either regressive or kitsch (the latter including all of what is often called popular music) will find in this telling neither the hero-worship of Schoenberg nor the dismissal of dodecaphony, but a refreshing plurality of taste and an encyclopaedic ability to see connections between apparently disparate repertoires.
There is also plenty of humour, especially in the anecdotes told, of which one choice example is the story of the elderly Richard Strauss encountering US soldiers towards the end of the war: the soldiers, to his bemusement, frequently asked who his statue of Beethoven depicted: he is said at one point to have muttered: “If they ask one more time, I’m telling them it’s Hitler’s father”.
As well as anecdote, in these pages you will find accounts of particular performances and descriptions of particular musical works which show a level of appreciation for all the works discussed and may provide a model for the way in which music students will be required to express music in words, which is a skill that does not come as easily as many very good musicians imagine that it will.
The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross