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Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment

Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

One Sunday evening in the spring of his seventh year as king, as his musicians were gathering for the evening concert, a courtier brought Frederick the Great his usual list of arrivals at the town gate. As he looked down the list of names, he gave a start.

"Gentlemen," he said, "old Bach is here." Those who heard him said there was "a kind of agitation" in his voice.

So begins James R. Gaines's Evening in the Palace of Reason, setting up what seems to be the ultimate mismatch: a young, glamorously triumphant warrior-king, heralded by Voltaire as the very It Boy of the Enlightenment, pitted against a devout, bad-tempered composer of "outdated" music, a scorned genius in his last years, symbol of a bygone world. The sparks from their brief conflict illuminate a pivotal moment in history.

Behind the pomp and flash, Prussia's Frederick the Great was a tormented man. His father, Frederick William I, was most likely mad; he had been known to chase frightened subjects down the street, brandishing a cane and roaring, "Love me, scum!" Frederick adored playing his flute as much as his father despised him for it, and he was beaten mercilessly for this and other perceived flaws. After an unsuccessful attempt to escape, Frederick was forced to watch as his best friend and coconspirator was brutally executed.

Twenty years later, Frederick's personality having congealed into a love of war and a taste for manhandling the great and near-great, he worked hard and long to draw "old Bach" into his celebrity menagerie. He was aided by the composer's own son, C. P. E. Bach, chief keyboardist in the king's private chamber music group. The king had prepared a cruel practical joke for his honored guest, asking him to improvise a six-part fugue on a theme so fiendishly difficult some believe only Bach's son could have devised it. Bach left the court fuming. In a fever of composition, he used the coded, alchemical language of counterpoint to write A Musical Offering in response. A stirring declaration of everything Bach had stood for all his life, it represented "as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and worldview as an absolute monarch has ever received." It is also one of the great works of art in the history of music.

Set at the tipping point between the ancient and the modern world, the triumphant story of Bach's victory expands to take in the tumult of the eighteenth century: the legacy of the Reformation, wars and conquest, and the birth of the Enlightenment. Most important, it tells the story of that historic moment when Belief — the quintessentially human conviction that behind mundane appearances lies something mysterious and awesome — came face to face with the cold certainty of Reason. Brimming with originality and wit, Evening in the Palace of Reason is history of the best kind, intimate in scale and broad in its vision.

Review:

"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"History winningly told , with the immediacy of a great novel...Gaines paints a whole age with the skill of Tuchman." Mary Karr, author of The Liars Club and Cherry

Review:

"Highly entertaining....Gaines masterfully weaves parallel narratives of the lives of Bach and Frederick leading up to their momentous meeting...[L]overs of music, European history, and Western philosophy will find this book an enormous pleasure." School Library Journal (Starred Review)

Review:

"James Gaines writes with great beauty and intelligence....[A]n exciting saga that brings the turmoil of the Enlightenment alive." Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin

Review:

"Gaines offers up a twin-faceted treatment of the ideas of the age — in a work that's not easily classifiable as music or history but is composed with a refreshingly nonscholarly flourish. A bit of a stretch, but it's a light-pedaling, virtuosic work of epistemology." Kirkus Reviews

Synopsis:

A vivid history of the clash between belief and reason is played out in the climactic meeting of a composer and a king: Bach and Frederick the Great. Line art throughout.

Synopsis:

One Sunday evening in the spring of his seventh year as king, as his musicians were gathering for the evening concert, a courtier brought Frederick the Great his usual list of arrivals at the town gate. As he looked down the list of names, he gave a start.

"Gentlemen," he said, "old Bach is here." Those who heard him said there was "a kind of agitation" in his voice.

So begins James R. Gaines's Evening in the Palace of Reason, setting up what seems to be the ultimate mismatch: a young, glamorously triumphant warrior-king, heralded by Voltaire as the very It Boy of the Enlightenment, pitted against a devout, bad-tempered composer of "outdated" music, a scorned genius in his last years, symbol of a bygone world. The sparks from their brief conflict illuminate a pivotal moment in history.

Behind the pomp and flash, Prussia's Frederick the Great was a tormented man. His father, Frederick William I, was most likely mad; he had been known to chase frightened subjects down the street, brandishing a cane and roaring, "Love me, scum!" Frederick adored playing his flute as much as his father despised him for it, and he was beaten mercilessly for this and other perceived flaws. After an unsuccessful attempt to escape, Frederick was forced to watch as his best friend and coconspirator was brutally executed.

Twenty years later, Frederick's personality having congealed into a love of war and a taste for manhandling the great and near-great, he worked hard and long to draw "old Bach" into his celebrity menagerie. He was aided by the composer's own son, C. P. E. Bach, chief keyboardist in the king's private chamber music group. The king had prepared a cruel practical joke for his honored guest, asking him to improvise a six-part fugue on a theme so fiendishly difficult some believe only Bach's son could have devised it. Bach left the court fuming. In a fever of composition, he used the coded, alchemical language of counterpoint to write A Musical Offering in response. A stirring declaration of everything Bach had stood for all his life, it represented "as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and worldview as an absolute monarch has ever received." It is also one of the great works of art in the history of music.

Set at the tipping point between the ancient and the modern world, the triumphant story of Bach's victory expands to take in the tumult of the eighteenth century: the legacy of the Reformation, wars and conquest, and the birth of the Enlightenment. Most important, it tells the story of that historic moment when Belief — the quintessentially human conviction that behind mundane appearances lies something mysterious and awesome — came face to face with the cold certainty of Reason. Brimming with originality and wit, Evening in the Palace of Reason is history of the best kind, intimate in scale and broad in its vision.

About the Author

A longtime journalist and the former editor of several magazines, including Time and People, James R. Gaines lives with his family in Paris.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780007156580
Subtitle:
Bach meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment
Publisher:
Harper
Author:
Gaines, James R.
Subject:
General
Subject:
Europe - Germany
Subject:
History & Criticism - General
Subject:
Genres & Styles - Classical
Subject:
General History
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
20050301
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
8.28x5.78x1.23 in. 1.10 lbs.

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Europe » Germany » Early Germany
History and Social Science » World History » Germany » General

Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment
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Product details 352 pages Fourth Estate - English 9780007156580 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "History winningly told , with the immediacy of a great novel...Gaines paints a whole age with the skill of Tuchman."
"Review" by , "Highly entertaining....Gaines masterfully weaves parallel narratives of the lives of Bach and Frederick leading up to their momentous meeting...[L]overs of music, European history, and Western philosophy will find this book an enormous pleasure."
"Review" by , "James Gaines writes with great beauty and intelligence....[A]n exciting saga that brings the turmoil of the Enlightenment alive."
"Review" by , "Gaines offers up a twin-faceted treatment of the ideas of the age — in a work that's not easily classifiable as music or history but is composed with a refreshingly nonscholarly flourish. A bit of a stretch, but it's a light-pedaling, virtuosic work of epistemology."
"Synopsis" by , A vivid history of the clash between belief and reason is played out in the climactic meeting of a composer and a king: Bach and Frederick the Great. Line art throughout.
"Synopsis" by ,

One Sunday evening in the spring of his seventh year as king, as his musicians were gathering for the evening concert, a courtier brought Frederick the Great his usual list of arrivals at the town gate. As he looked down the list of names, he gave a start.

"Gentlemen," he said, "old Bach is here." Those who heard him said there was "a kind of agitation" in his voice.

So begins James R. Gaines's Evening in the Palace of Reason, setting up what seems to be the ultimate mismatch: a young, glamorously triumphant warrior-king, heralded by Voltaire as the very It Boy of the Enlightenment, pitted against a devout, bad-tempered composer of "outdated" music, a scorned genius in his last years, symbol of a bygone world. The sparks from their brief conflict illuminate a pivotal moment in history.

Behind the pomp and flash, Prussia's Frederick the Great was a tormented man. His father, Frederick William I, was most likely mad; he had been known to chase frightened subjects down the street, brandishing a cane and roaring, "Love me, scum!" Frederick adored playing his flute as much as his father despised him for it, and he was beaten mercilessly for this and other perceived flaws. After an unsuccessful attempt to escape, Frederick was forced to watch as his best friend and coconspirator was brutally executed.

Twenty years later, Frederick's personality having congealed into a love of war and a taste for manhandling the great and near-great, he worked hard and long to draw "old Bach" into his celebrity menagerie. He was aided by the composer's own son, C. P. E. Bach, chief keyboardist in the king's private chamber music group. The king had prepared a cruel practical joke for his honored guest, asking him to improvise a six-part fugue on a theme so fiendishly difficult some believe only Bach's son could have devised it. Bach left the court fuming. In a fever of composition, he used the coded, alchemical language of counterpoint to write A Musical Offering in response. A stirring declaration of everything Bach had stood for all his life, it represented "as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and worldview as an absolute monarch has ever received." It is also one of the great works of art in the history of music.

Set at the tipping point between the ancient and the modern world, the triumphant story of Bach's victory expands to take in the tumult of the eighteenth century: the legacy of the Reformation, wars and conquest, and the birth of the Enlightenment. Most important, it tells the story of that historic moment when Belief — the quintessentially human conviction that behind mundane appearances lies something mysterious and awesome — came face to face with the cold certainty of Reason. Brimming with originality and wit, Evening in the Palace of Reason is history of the best kind, intimate in scale and broad in its vision.

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