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Musical arguments

Alex Ross's history of 20th-century music covers an impressively vast terrain. But its preference for "popular" over "difficult" modernism means that it fails to grapple with the artistic battles of the period

By Stephen Everson   April 2008

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross (4th Estate, £20)

In The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross, the New Yorker’s music critic, provides what he describes as an account of “the 20th century heard through its music.” Quite what that should amount to is not obvious, at least to me, but certainly Ross manifests a great knowledge, and understanding, of 20th-century music. He is a writer, and a listener, of wide-ranging sympathies, and the terrain covered in the book is vast. Given its scope, it is no mean achievement that the book has any shape…

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