"It is a matter not of traveling from one place to another, but of uncovering
the destination inside the point of departure." Steve Reich.
THE REST IS NOISE, LISTENING TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, by Alex Ross (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) is a history of twentieth century "classical" music. And it rocks with the beat of a chaotic century. Dense with biography and cultural context, it leafs through the pages of time with a close look that is light and clear.
From Strauss and Mahler, who open the century, to Reich and Adams who close it, the sounds of street and country, oppression and rebellion move together and separately (tonally and atonally?) in a hypnotic dance. Alex Ross is brilliant, not just in explaining a complex subject, but in evoking the very essence of music with his language.
This is a great read. It has history, biography, music, culture, and clash in it.
Although there is a clear narrative element, THE REST IS NOISE, achieves something much larger, more panoramic than a trip through the decades from start to finish. Brian Eno's words on minimalism could apply equally to Alex Ross' history of music: "a drift away from narrative and towards landscape, from performed event to sonic space."
Curiously enough, the writer in me wants to rush out, and --not listen to all of the music described elegantly, not purchase the suggested listening recordings, but rather-- find and re-read Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus. And then I want to listen to the sounds of the 20th century!