As someone with a keen interest in 20th Century music and history, albeit from a layman's perspective, I was attracted to this book as a popular (i.e. not too technical) overview of the music of the last century. It has received some stellar reviews, and while there were pages where I was moved, entertained and/or swept away by the author's passion and enthusiasm, I still found myself feeling ultimately rather disappointed.
Rather than focus on a handful of key figures, or list every single significant composer, the author chooses to place his book somewhere in the middle; unfortunately I found this approach neither detailed enough to be engaging nor complete enough in its overview to give a clear picture of its subject. In fact, I found the writing to be quite repetitive in form - a bit of biographical background, an amusing anecdote linking the composer with another mentioned a few pages previous, and then on to the next name on the list. I started to get bored quite early on!
One or two reviews have commented on the book's bias towards music from the US. I feel that the author is justified in this - he is an American music critic living and working in the US, and he makes it quite clear from the start that he intends to address a certain imbalance in music criticism which he feels has previously overlooked the contribution of American composers and institutions to classical music. Sadly, his well-meaning attempt to defend the validity of 'pop' music towards the end of the book (which could be summed up as, "If you listen hard enough, some of it even sounds like *our* music!") ends up only reaffirming the snobbery and elitism it seeks to combat. I finished the book feeling rather discouraged from exploring contemporary classical music further.
My feelings towards 'The Rest Is Noise' were probably heavily influenced by the book I read prior to it, which happened to be Theodor Adorno's book on Alban Berg
- a detailed, complex, poetic and ultimately deeply moving tome which in the end is as much a dialogue between two close friends as it is a piece of music criticism. Ross' book is a completely different beast entirely; perhaps part of my disappointment was a result of unfair comparison.
But at most, only part.