The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross is an interesting summary of 20th century (classical) music. I purchased this book in my first or second year of University but was too intimidated to read it. I’ll have to admit, it is written in very flourished language and sometimes I had to look up the definition of some words. If anything, this book has given me a greater vocabulary to become a better music writer. At almost 600 pages, it took me well over a month to read. I purposely read it slowly so that I could absorb and retain as much of it as possible.
The book begins with a mention of Richard Strauss’ Salome and ends with an epilogue that mentions how minimalist influences have spread to the likes of Bjork and Radiohead.
The vividly written narrative highlights the lives of 20th composers; from life to death and their take on each other’s music. They are just like us in the sense that they often don’t understand each other’s music.The book beautifully describes some of the most important works of each composer and the society’s reactions to them. It’s funny because you learn who was in with dictators like Hitler and learn what happened after their reign was over. It dances around everybody who’s helped shaped the 20th century from painters, writers to the events and wars that molded what we are today. In a book about music, I think I learned more about 20th century history than I have ever known.
And if the book wasn’t enough Alex Ross also runs http://www.therestisnoise.com/ which has more to do with 20th century music as well as listening samples.