Who’s afraid of the big, bad 20th century?


I finally finished Alex Ross’s book, The Rest is Noise, and it’s got me fired up for 20th century music. Ross traces the threads of music woven into the fabric of politics, technology, history, and society. It’s an absorbing, brilliant book, densely packed with lively writing, vivid anecdotes, and sharp insights.

Ross connects the dots.

For example, when I was a kid in the ‘70s watching TV superhero shows, I always wondered why the good guys liked rock while the bad guys liked Bach. Remember? On the Bionic Man, Wonder Woman, and Superman, the villains often plotted the destruction of humanity over the quiet strains of Schubert’s Trout Quintet or Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. I didn’t get it. Now, thanks to Ross, I do.

The way Ross explains it, the association is due to the cultural legacy of Adolf Hitler. Throughout his dictatorship, Hitler expressed a deep, profound love of Bach, Brahms, Wagner, and Beethoven. He co-opted the classics, and decades later, some people are still linking “high-brow” taste with villainy.

We’ve come a long way, I hope, and on Wednesday’s Live from Hochstein, we have the chance to soak in two 20th century cello sonatas played by top-notch musicians, cellist Natasha Farney and pianist James Nalley, who both studied in Rochester at the Eastman School. I interviewed them on Monday. Natasha said the middle movement of the Honegger makes her melt.

In a free, lunchtime broadcast concert from the Hochstein School of Music and Dance at 50 North Plymouth Avenue you can see and hear them perform Benjamin Britten’s Cello Sonata in C and Arthur Honegger’s Cello Sonata in D minor. I’m hosting the live show, starting after the noon NPR newscast, and I hope you’ll tune in. Or come in person and hear some brazen, dramatic 20th century music written by an English pacifist and a gentle Swiss.

If you do come in person, please smile and nod. I’m a little nervous.

»