Brian's Reviews > The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

The Rest Is Noise by Alex  Ross
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's review
Jul 16, 10

Read in July, 2010

Well, I must commend Alex Ross on a thorough history of the first half of the 20th century. Its insights into and narratives about the Second Viennese school as well as Stalinist Russia are quite detailed and fun to read. He also has what I think is a pretty good blog that continues his advocacy of new music.

I am a little miffed, however. My first critique is of how he handled Benjamin Britten. Granted, my first encounter with Britten was A Death in Venice which is probably the worst way to try to get into him. That being said, I am surprised so much was not edited out. In a 540 page book, you would think scene by scene descriptions of both Peter Grimes and A Death in Venice would be a waste of space. Especially when he had set the precedent of not doing that in his previous opera descriptions.

My main critique is music from 1970-2000. Thirty years is a huge chunk of the century, and 39 pages out of a 540 page book is insulting. Especially when a solid 7 pages (not including brief mentions in the remaining 32 pages) is dedicated to John Adams. He also took the time to suddenly bring up the music of Japan and China (I assume to congeal his obsession with Nixon in China). Even with little to say about it, it needed to come up earlier, and more time should have been focused on the music of the last 30 years of the century.

I was so thrilled for the first 400 pages or so, thinking the entire book would be as exhaustive and not realizing that I was running out of pages to read. In the end, it's another in a long line of valuable resources for research of the first half of the 20th century, and a big disappointment for anything after 1970.

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