History is written in the notes of classical music

Alex Ross
New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has written an new book, "The Rest is Noise, Listening to the Twentieth Century."
MPR Photo/Sam Choo

A couple of episodes from the culture of the 20th century to consider.

A century ago, the new opera "Salome" makes its shocking debut in Vienna. Everybody of note is there, including a young Adolf Hitler lurking in the theater.

Then there is Arnold Schoenberg, perhaps the most imposing of Viennese composers, who radically changed the way music sounded. In Los Angeles, he has dinner at the home of Harpo Marx, along with other Hollywood stars in his new hometown.

And, if you look closely at all of the famous faces on the cover of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, you can find a photo of the avant-garde German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Three memorable episodes, snapshots really, help illustrate the cross-currents of music and culture in the 20th century. And they are just three of many from the new book by Alex Ross, "The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century." The book is an exhaustive chronicle by the music critic of the New Yorker.

MPR's Tom Crann spoke with Ross about what the 20th century sounded like.

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