Evening in the Palace of Reason
opens with the account of an historic meeting between two multifaceted geniuses: J. S. Bach, exhausted from a difficult journey across Europe, has come to visit his son at the court of Frederick the Great. Bach is summoned unexpectedly to the Palace, and there, before an audience of musicians and nobles, Frederick gives Bach a short but cleverly written musical theme. The King 'requests' (kings don't make requests!) that Bach improvise a fugue in three parts based on this theme. Bach has had no time to prepare, and Frederic's melody has been composed in such a way as to make it resist the rules of fugue, a very technical-even mathematical-style of music. The intent of Frederick's challenge is to shame both Bach and his theistic cosmology before the whole court of Prussia, to demonstrate the superiority of Reason over Belief. James R. Gaines's masterful storytelling begins with the story above, then carefully examines the lives of Bach and Frederick before disclosing the result of the challenge. Bach-disregarded during his lifetime as being hopelessly behind the fashion-and Frederick the Great-called the 'Philosopher King' by his contemporaries-uncannily embody the conflict between Reformation and Enlightenment values in sixteenth-century Europe. Includes a list of suggested music by J.S. Bach, his son Carl, and Frederick the Great. 368 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
Johann Sebastian Bach created what may be the most celestial and profound body of music in history; Frederick the Great built the colossus we now know as Germany, and along with it a template for modern warfare. Their fleeting encounter in 1757 signals a unique moment in history where belief collided with the cold certainty of reason. Set at the tipping point between the ancient and modern world, Evening in the Palace of Reason captures the tumult of the eighteenth century, the legacy of the Reformation, and the birth of the Enlightenment in this extraordinary tale of two men.