In the twentieth century, music ceased to be one thing. It became a congregation of distinct musical cultures, speaking all at once in mutually alien tongues. In The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross, music critic to the New Yorker, gives us a riveting tour of the wild landscape of twentieth-century classical music with portraits of individuals, cultures and nations that reveal the predicament of the individual composer in a century of noise.
Taking as its starting point the legendary production of ‘Salome’, conducted by Richard Strauss himself on 16 May 1906, with Puccini, Schoenberg, Berg and Adolf Hitler all seated in the stalls, Ross goes on to explore Sibelius, the mythology of modernism, Kurt Weill, the music of the Third Reich, Britten, Boulez and the post-war avant-garde, as well as many others. In the crashing finale, Ross combines his themes of musical politics, political music and the predicament of the solitary voice with an examination of progressive pop artists such as The Velvet Underground and Brian Eno, demonstrating how classical and modern traditions have been re-invented in the digital era, and showing what the future holds for music and its relationship to a chaotic world.
Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker magazine since 1996. His work has also appeared in The New Republic, Slate, and the London Review of Books. He has been featured in Best American Essays, Da Capo Best Music Writing, and Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader. He has received two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for music criticism and a Holtzbrinck fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin.