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Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment Paperback – February 28, 2006


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Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment + Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven + Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (Norton Paperback)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007156618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007156610
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“James Gaines writes with great beauty and intelligence…an exciting saga that brings the turmoil of the Enlightenment alive.” (Walter Isaacson, author of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN)

“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)

“Evening in the Palace of Reason has given me enormous pleasure and instruction.” (Jan Morris, author of A Writer’s House in Wales)

“First rate...[Gaines] writes superbly and makes us feel at home with things that would have sounded arcane otherwise.” (Daily Telegraph (London))

“A moving portrait...Gaines has a deep understanding of music and an infectious zeal for narrative history.” (People (four stars))

“Gaines maps sweeping cultural history with dazzling virtuosity…You won’t find a more lucid and engaging guide.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“A book-length romp that is less like a B-Minor Mass than an Italian opera…Wonderful.” (Harper's Magazine)

“Gaines writes very accessibly…A marvelous story that will captivate the classical music audience.” (Booklist)

“Highly entertaining… Lovers of music, European history, and Western philosophy will find this book an enormous pleasure.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“An eloquent and fascinating study, highly debatable at points yet all the more stimulating for that…Accessible and entertaining.” (Time magazine)

“Gaines elegantly sketches parallel biographies of the two protagonists....His enthusiasm is infectious.” (New York Sun)

“Intelligent, stylish, wryly witty, serious yet never solemn, and above all passionate in its celebration of a great composer.” (The Guardian)

“Articulate, well-informed and rigorous…Gaines makes this dauntingly technical subject accessible.” (Sunday Telegraph)

“Impossible to put down when one is dancing, swerving, stumbling through [the] extraordinary brilliance…a wonderfully engaging tale.” (The Independent (Sunday))

“Lively…with a delicious cast of characters…Gaines shows himself a deft writer.” (Denver Post)

“Filled with sensible speculation and insights, Gaines’ books is a model for humanities writing.” (San Antonio Express-News)

“Gaines writes with admirable erudition…No author could want a more promising pair of antagonists.” (New York Times Book Review)

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.

Customer Reviews

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I enthusiastically recommend the book to anyone who has an interest in history and the arts.
John David Earnest
He paints a brief encounter between J. S. Bach and Frederick the Great as a fulcrom dividing the faith-based medieval world and the reason-based enlightenment.
Joseph M. Powers
One of the great books of a lifetime, a masterpiece of soaring imagination, history, and invigorating writing.
LuelCanyon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By LuelCanyon on January 11, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the great books of a lifetime, a masterpiece of soaring imagination, history, and invigorating writing. More Bach comes through in these luminous pages of a one-night encounter with Frederick the Great than is found in a dozen books of Bach 'scholarship'. While the book's premise is Frederick's challenge to 'old Bach' that resulted in his composing 'A Musical Offering', Gaines' exploration of Bach's mind, life, faith, and music is so attuned, and wondrously rendered in such engaging prose that any plot artifice is subsumed in a dire, burning truth that never falters. It's a book of such pleasure and vision one ends recharged with love for 'old Bach'. One example - chapter 6 (The Sharp Edges of Genius) details Bach's funeral cantata 'Actus tragicus' (BVW 106) and offers a cogent summation of its musical parts, but ultimately provides an unforgettable rumination on the godly essence of Bach's music, indeed of those divine dimensions of human experience we hunger for. I've gifted it to many friends, each in turn confirmed my trust with their own experience of wonder. Everything's here - Bach's music, his towering mastery, orneriness and orderliness, his divine business, and a profound look into our common spiritual history. Evening in the Palace of Reason will change your life. No other recommendation truly suffices.
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60 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Sight Reader on April 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
Gaines uses a historical curiosity - the encounter between Fredrick the Great and JS Bach - as a launching point into a wonder filled voyage of discovery into the world of the Enlightenment. Bach and Fredrick represent two opposing philosophical currents in the Enlightenment whose positions are now reversed as Post Modernism marches relentlessly against the remains of scientific certainty.

The breadth of material is staggering, ranging from music to politics to philosophy to religion. Those (like myself) who thought this era to be a stilted period of polite powdered wigs will forever have their prejudices reversed by the passions that govern these very accessible pages. As an introduction to the period and as an incentive to learn more, one could not ask for a better book.

However, I must caution that this book should not be used as anything more than a way to stir interest in the period, for this is a history that does not seem to be seasoned by discipline. Following in the mold of books like "1421: The Year China Discovered America", Gaines seems to sacrifice professionalism and objectivity in favor of accessibility and passion. As little as I know about the period, it is hard to miss claims he makes that seem quite biased. When he amplifies the emptiness of the Enlightenment by claiming that Fredrick the Great's greatest years were BEHIND him before the Seven Years War even started, even a neophyte like me cringes. When he laments that Mozart's music is "missing something" when compared to Bach's, surely he must be aware that there's a substantial musical population that would say just the opposite (especially if you imagine Bach dying in his 30's).
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steve R VINE VOICE on February 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
You can go to Peter Gay's two volumes on 'The Enlightenment' for a more exhaustive study, or you can try Norman Hampson's slimmer though comprehensive volume (also, simply, 'The Enlightenment'), and while both shine brightly from sheer size and scope, neither sparkle as much as Gaines' little gem, 'Evening in the Palace of Reason.' Little need be added to the more extensive reviews by others who have posted them here, but perhaps one overlooked point bears mentioning.

To whit, Gaines' excellent demonstration of the contradiction, by way of juxtaposition, of the standard views of the "traditionalist" J.S. Bach and the "progressive" Frederick the Great. Of course, classic interpretations of both men (the conservative composer vs. the first-ever 'enlightened' ruler) break down under the demonstrable complexity of their respective characters, and in the end Gaines clearly and cleverly reveals the counterpoints apparent in each: the avant garde, even radically political elements in Bach's music and the traditional, tried-and-true despotism employed by Frederick. Bach and Frederick, in other words, each contained aspects of traditional and the modern, as well as 'ratio' and 'sensus' (reason and faith, for Gaines)--but in differing proportions according to their station and their art. They were each of them perfect examples, and living contradictions, of the age they helped to define, and has since defined them.

To hinge, if only for a few hundred pages, essential elements of the Enlightenment on one musical composition (Bach's Musical Offering), is to reveal a jewel hidden in the historically messy pile that is the "age of reason." Bravo.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on September 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) .... (Says Wikipedia).
Here is what the back cover of this book says:
(Bach) `created ...the most celestial and profound body of music in history; Frederick the Great built the colossus we now know as Germany... Their fleeting encounter in 1757 signals a unique moment in history where belief collided with the cold certainty of reason.'

Awesome, isn't it? Fritz met Bach 7 years after Bach died. Truly a unique moment.
And Fritz built Germany, though he himself died in 1786. That was 85 years before the Hohenzollern's Germany was founded by Bismarck in 1871, during the reign of Wilhelm I, who was Fritz' nephew's son's nephew, or something like that.
The cold certainty of reason can get a lot done.

This is all not the author's fault, so far. The book is generally well worth reading: an entertaining `double biography' of the two men, who were not really meant for each other. Different worlds and different times, despite their overlapping. Bach's Thuringia and Saxony, his music and his religion were not suitable for Fritz' Prussia. Their meeting happened in 1747, when one of them was nearly on his way out (3 more years for him), and the other still relatively fresh in his career as king.

Still: Gaines shouldn't have said that the Hohenzollern had ruled Germany for 300 years by then. No, they hadn't. They had started with ruling a small patch in the patchwork, and succeeded in growing their patch to a substantial size inside the total carpet. Germany as an entity didn't exist during Fritz' time. His Prussia had grown to challenge the leadership of the Habsburgs inside the Holy Roman Empire though.
(The book has a not altogether bad map at the contents section.
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