This is a chapter from Alex Ross’s groundbreaking history of twentieth-century classical music, ‘The Rest is Noise’. Further extracts are available as digital shorts, accompanying the London Southbank festival programme.
After the war, composers took up what might be called catastrophe style with a vengeance. The twentieth century was undoubtedly one of the most horrific periods of human history — but terror was not always the subject of its composers. For some, attempting to transcend or reject the despair that consumed other artists led to the creation of some of the century’s most beautiful music.
Now a major festival running throughout 2013 at London’s Southbank, The Rest is Noise is an intricate commentary not just on the sounds that defined the century, but on art’s troublesome dance with politics, social and cultural change.
Alex Ross is the New Yorker’s music critic, and the winner of the Guardian First Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Rest is Noise, which was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson and Pulitzer prizes for non-fiction.