EVENING IN THE PALACE OF REASON: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment

James R. Gaines, Author . Fourth Estate $23.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-00-715658-0

Like contrapuntal voices in a Bach fugue, the lives of an aging composer and a young dictator are intertwined and interlocked in this absorbing cultural history. Gaines (The Lives of the Piano ), former managing editor of Time, Life and People magazines, begins by recounting Frederick's abrupt summons of Bach to his court at Potsdam. Here, in an apparent effort to humiliate the old-style composer, Frederick, enamored of the new in philosophy and art, sets Bach a succession of seemingly impossible musical challenges: to each, the composer responds with unthinkable genius, culminating in his Musical Offering. But beneath the biographical counterpoint traced by Gaines is a longer, unfinished duel between two visions of humankind—one that the sensitive and musically inclined Frederick was also fighting within himself. He had been brutally abused by his father and was increasingly committed to the cynical pursuit of military expansion; the sun gradually sets on the Prussian king, who is consumed by disillusionment, inflicting pain on himself and countless others. As night falls on the (un)enlightened despot, Bach's star begins to rise, and later, he will acquire the veneration his genius merits, his music a perennial reminder that "the light of reason can blind us to a deeper kind of illumination." Illus. not seen by PW . Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Mar. 4)

Reviewed on: 02/07/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-0-00-715392-3
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-00-715661-0
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