Saturday, October 31, 2009

Evening in the Palace of Reason

by James R. Gaines

The thing I love about history is that it's like an onion. Or a cake. Or an onion cake. No, scratch that last one. What I mean is that it has layers. You can get learn the basic outline of a historical period--the names, dates and places--and go on your merry way. Later you can return and get some more details in the story, learn about the people and cultures behind the basic facts. And if the era really grabs you, you can dig deeper and deeper into the events, examining how the the various people and events connect and influence one another. That's the experience I had with this book. In the spring of 1747, Johann Sebastian Bach spent the evening as a guest of Frederick the Great, king of Prussia. Frederick challenged the elderly Bach to take a (quite difficult) theme and turn it into a three-part fugue. To the astonishment of the crowd, Bach did so. Frederick, in turn, upped the stakes and challenged Bach to make it a six part fugue. Herr Bach had to take that one home and work on it. This brief encounter between "a son of the early Enlightenment" and "a father of the late Baroque" is the hub on which Mr. Gaines builds a double biography of the two men. He not only recounts their stories, but looks at the changing zeitgeist of a generation. This period of history was pretty new to me and it offered some insights into my heritage as a German Lutheran. It was also enjoyable to simply read. Mr. Gaines has a witty style that made these two historical figures, and their era, come alive.

Check it out!
LibraryThing link


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