Alex Ross
The Rest Is Noise: Listening
to the Twentieth Century.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 640 pages, $30

Alex Ross’s book is about one fifth or quarter music analysis, which is good and proper, coming from The New Yorker’s astute music critic. For the rest, we get much that is historical, biographical, anecdotal, philosophical, and, to a modest extent, aesthetically evaluative. The writing is of literary quality, not all that frequent in books about music. Ross, moreover, is a genuine polymath, and adduces a good deal of nonmusical history, social observation, parallels to the other arts, and discussions of popular music, which, as he argues, has a very porous border with modern classical music. Nevertheless, the claim of the jacket blurb that this is “not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music” and, as Ross himself affirms, ...

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