Ross writes at a time when the atonal revolution has given way to a pluralism that rejects the high modernist concept of “progress” in art. As Ross writes, too much that was valuable and popular but not, formally speaking, new or radical in the twentieth century (Puccini, Copland, Sibelius, for starters) ended up not being taken as seriously as it deserved to be.
After all, music is not science, never mind if certain composers around midcentury liked to dress up like physicists and imagine themselves conducting experiments in sound in laboratories in Paris or Princeton. We have revived many of the musical ideas that had been discarded. There is, in fact, almost an A-B-A shape—a classic sonata form—to the century as Ross recounts it, beginning with Strauss and Mahler, moving through Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Boulez and Stockhausen, and arriving at symphonic-scaled, historically omnivorous works by Osvaldo Golijov and operas by Steve Reich, who once said a model for composers in the late century should be John Coltrane. “The music just comes out,” as Reich put it. “There’s no argument. There it is.” Exactly.
more from the NYRB here.