Suzannah's Reviews > Evening in the Palace of Reason

Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

it was amazing

Wow--what a book. Bach, Frederick the Great, the Enlightenment, the metaphysical underpinnings of Baroque music, and the Musical Offering. It's the kind of unbelievable history that seems more like something we wish might have happened but never did: Frederick the Great, a rock star of the Enlightenment, orders JS Bach, the Fifth Evangelist and the last of the Baroque contrapunctal masters, to visit him at his palace. He then attempts to humiliate the old man by demanding an improvised three-part fugue on an uncounterpointable theme. To the astonishment of the assembled virtuosi, Bach does it. And when Frederick demands a six-part fugue and Bach is forced to ask for time, the "Musical Offering" that results constitutes nothing so much as a comprehensive rebuke to the absolute monarch's entire worldview.

James Gaines treats his subjects with a lively scholarship that makes no pretence about neutrality and is often laugh-out-loud funny, when it's not moving you to tears. From the arcane cosmological mysteries encoded in Bach's craftsmanship to the melodramatic and gaudy early years of Frederick's life, he remains compulsively readable.

Without a doubt the chapters on Bach, his craft, and worldview were the most interesting. While the modish Enlightenment composers believed that music was intended only for the self-expression of the composer and the entertainment of an audience, Baroque composers like Bach saw music as part of the creative energy holding the universe together. Their intricate counterpoint was a musical embodiment of the "music of the spheres" and the nature of God Himself, showing perfect unity and order in enchanting and complex diversity.

Highly recommended, with a language and content warning for younger readers.
2 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Evening in the Palace of Reason.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 18, 2013 – Shelved
March 18, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I heard about this book last week while listening to the Ken Myers lectures over at Canonwired (very good) and now this review comes up. On my to-read list now.

Suzannah I had already had the book recommended to me, so I was listening to the lectures at the same time I read it and marvelling at how well they complimemted the book!

Katie Schuermann Marvelous, right? This book has become the standard to which I hold all other historical books.

Suzannah I've got to re-read it! It's one of my favourite non-fiction books, for sure.

back to top