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Evening in the Palace of Reason


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Includes PS Section In one corner, a godless young warrior, Voltaire's heralded 'philosopher-king', the It Boy of the Enlightenment. In the other, a devout if bad-tempered old composer of 'outdated' music, a scorned genius in his last years. The sparks from their brief conflict illuminate a turbulent age. The definitive, comprehensive study of an intriguing subject. Illuminates the encounter between Frederick the Great and Bach, which prompted the composition of 'A Musical Offering'.

About the Author

Jim Gaines was the first editor in chief of People magazine, as well as the editor of Time magazine. This is his first book. He lives in Paris with his family.


The best-documented event in the life of J.S. Bach was his meeting, three years before his death, with Frederick the Great of Prussia. The two were polar opposites: Bach, the learned contrapuntalist, was the devout composer of ornate, "old-fashioned" liturgical music, while Frederick the enlightened philosopher-king favored the lighter secular music of the era. At their meeting, in front of a distinguished audience of court musicians, Bach improvised a three-voiced fugue on a theme presented to him-and ostensibly composed by-the king himself. A few months later, Bach completed one of his greatest works-the Musical Offering-a collection of ten canons, two fugues, and a trio sonata based on the same theme and dedicated to the king. In this highly entertaining book, Gaines masterfully weaves parallel narratives of the lives of Bach and Frederick leading up to their momentous meeting. Gaines is not a musicologist but has drawn extensively on numerous up-to-date sources, and his journalistic background is evident in the stylish, often humorous prose, which never bogs down in dry musical or historical minutiae. There is some needless speculation, but lovers of music, European history, and Western philosophy will find this book an enormous pleasure. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/04.]-Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

'Gaines has a keen eye for colour, and enjoys himself greatly regaling us with anecdotes! Evening in the Palace of Reason is a wonderful work of popular history, intelligent, stylish, wryly witty, serious yet never solemn, and above all passionate in its celebration of a great composer' John Banville, Guardian 'An intriguing book.' Sunday Times 'The author presents us with a piece of theatre that is witty, instructive and often bizarre' Independent on Sunday. 'Gaines' style is readable, crisp and compelling. He is an excellent guide: informed, unpretentious and frank! A story told with wit, knowledge, the odd flight of fancy and love.' TLS

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) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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