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

The Rest Is Noise by Alex  Ross
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's review
Apr 26, 2008

it was amazing

Alex Ross is, in my opinion, one of the better writers for The New Yorker. This history of 20th-century art music is quite a feat: how to make some of the world's most difficult music accessible and understandable to the average music fan?

Really, even though Ross' ability to describe the music and explain its placement and importance in history is stellar, I was frustrated with my unfamiliarity with some of the pieces he describes. Here's a sample, from a description of Schoenberg:

"The music hangs by only the thinnest thread to the old harmonic order. It purports to be in B minor, yet the home chord appears only three times in thirty measures, once beneath the word 'agnonizing.' Otherwise, it is made up of a ghostly flow of unrooted triads, ambiguous transitional chords, stark dissonances, and crystalline monodic lines, approximating the picture of an 'ice-cold, deep-sleeping stream' . . . "

You can see from this how eloquent Ross is -- but how frustrating it is to read this without a stack of CDs by my side! Really, I don't feel as if I can do the book justice without raiding the classical music shelves at the local library, or spending a big bundle at iTunes. This isn't a book, it's a project. We'll see how far I can get before the book is due back . . .

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