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Friday, October 28, 2016

The Rest Is Noise

"Revuelta's 1939 work 'La Noche de Los Mayos', originally conceived as a film score, has found a second life as a Mahlerian symphonic canvas, moving from purposefully kitschy dance episodes to stretches of open-hearted Romantic lamentation and on to a scary Mayan bacchanal that spills over into polyrhythmic mayhem." 

Alex Ross is a writer of dazzling musical erudition. "The Rest Is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century" (2007) is an astonishing book about the intersection of music and history. Re-read that sentence above from page 274. In about fifty words - no lectures from English composition teachers, please - Ross references Mahler, the Romantics and polyrhythms. And kitsch and Mayan culture. Out of context, the sentence could strike a casual reader as showboating.

But Ross prepares the devoted and attentive reader by spending time with Mahler, the Romantics, and polyrhythms before unleashing a tour-de-force sentence like that. He does this repeatedly while also regularly slipping in jewels like "... scribbled lightning in the air ..." to describe Charlie Parker's saxophone playing. Powerfully descriptive, educational sentences that unwind like a comprehensible labyrinth, along with metaphors that shimmer; what a gift.

I'm obligated to conclude by giving a small sample of how Ross expertly weaves the tumultuous history of the twentieth century into his narrative. "Black and white categories make no sense in the shadowland of dictatorship. These composers were neither saints nor devils; they were flawed actors on a tilted stage."  Please talk to me if you read this book.

1 comment:

  1. Sure, Pat. When pigs fly. Please talk to me if you read these books: 1) The Noise Of Time by Julian Barnes - about composer Dimitri Shostakovich and his constant struggle to create original music while appeasing those in power 2) Sing For Your Life by Daniel Bergner - a gut-wrenching yet triumphant biography of black opera singer, Ryan Speedo Green. In my opinion, Bergner has outdone Barnes with Sing For Your Life.