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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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“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.
Top customer reviews
The writing is accessible and --well, flavorful-- but it is by no means always pleasant. (Did a muckraker let fall a few malodorous drops into this stew of cultural history?) And readers might wonder occasionally whether the author was peering into a 20th century crystal ball to find out why people think and act as they do.
The perspective of the author becomes more explicit near the end. He does not take into account that music Bach wrote or adapted for religious use, is still used by some people more or less as it was intended. Such listeners and participants ask God to lead them in worship and devotion through the musical expression of words in the text.
It was worth reading, but I won't hurry back to that shelf.
As you read the book, you will want to listen to the works the author describes. Note that there is a helpful (but already dated) Discography at the end of the book. Also consider getting the Bach Edition, a collection of all his works in a big boxed CD set, to accompany the book. Also, consider the Angela Hewitt boxed set of keyboard works played very beautifully on the piano.
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. The map could have been improved if the edges hadn't been cut off, which would have allowed to see the neighbors, specifically the `original' Prussia. Isn't it a joke that the book's map has `Prussia' outside its frame and needs to place an arrow to the NE?)
I feel more competent about Prussia and the Hohenzollern than about Bach's music. I tend to believe what Gaines writes about Bach, but I am often a little skeptical about his Fritzology. This book was recommended to me by a bassoonist. That supports my trust in its musicology, and it makes me chuckle at the story of young Bach's fist fight with the bassoon student who was offended when Bach said that his bassoon sounded like a bleating goat. You must have forgotten that one, Maestro!
Most recent customer reviews
It was a most enjoyable experience to read about Bach's encounter with
Frederick the Great of...Read more