Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Rest is Noise

I took delivery of Alex Ross's monumental tome "The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century" today. It's a book I'd somehow heard about, and then found it in Waterstones and realised that yes, it was something I'd been waiting a long time for. Then, there was a review and an interview in the Guardian at the weekend. Essentially, a history of 20th century classical music, I've only just begun reading it, but already I know its going to be an essential addition to my collection. Importantly, Ross is not some ivory-towered musicologist in his eighties, but someone around my age, who took a very different route than me at 15, finding Shostakovich, whilst I was finding the Velvet Underground. Oddly, the latter get a mention on the cover, which wouldn't have gone down well in my school or household - yet that's what's got me all excited about this book; I've been a somewhat amateur fan of 20th century classical music for a while - and though I do like some older musics - its the 20th century composers that seem to resonate with me, even if its only through the familiarity of their influence. The first chapter sets a powerful start, the premiere of Strauss's "Salome" in 1906, bringing a welcome historiography to the party, alongside close readings of the work itself. On the afternoon of the premiere, Strauss went for a walk with Mahler, and that concert may well have been attended by Adolf Hitler as well as the German musical high caste. It's a reminder, if one's needed, that the 20th century began late; that it's political catastrophes were interlinked with its artistic triumphs and that its philosophical saws (or sores) were already well on their way at the century's start. Luckily, I saw Opera North perform "Salome" at the Sage a couple of years ago, so that piece at least is familiar to me: I can well see that the next few weeks may see me dipping in and out of the book, as I dip in and out of the contemporary classical sections of Amazon and eMusic. Ross keeps a regular blog with the same name as his book.

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