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Evening in the Palace of Reason

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pscot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Feb-02-10 06:46 PM
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Evening in the Palace of Reason
In 1747, J.S,Bach, ageing, irrascible musical genius; a model of Christian piety and Reformation zeal was summoned to Potsdam by Frederick the Great, atheist, homosexual warrior king of Prussia, to serve as the butt of a practical joke. Old Bach turned the joke around and threw it in the king's face. James R.Gaines seems to have used the fugue as a model for his book. He moves the story along in a multi-layered, contrapuntal manner embellished with wonderful anecdotal flourishes. It's not long or dense, as so many histories are, and you won't learn anything about barge traffic on the Elbe or the potato crop in Silesia. This is just a great read. I recommend it highly.
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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-21-10 03:53 PM
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1. NYT Review (2005)
'Evening in the Palace of Reason': Being Geniuses Together

Published: April 17, 2005

... He adopts the rather slow form of a double biography, crosscutting for more than 200 pages before returning to the evening of May 7, 1747, when Frederick scanned a list of foreign visitors to Potsdam and agitatedly announced to his musicians, ''Gentlemen, old Bach is here'' ...

In a later, more liberated age, Frederick (1712-86) might have been sympathetically known as ''Frederick the Gay" ... As Crown Prince of Prussia, he had been jailed by his father, the maniacal homophobe Frederick William I, ostensibly for plotting to desert the kingdom and seek asylum in Britain with a young lieutenant, Hans von Katte ... Unmoved by Frederick's apology, the king ordered that Katte be beheaded below Frederick's window ...

The best poor Bach could do to compete, biographically speaking, was get himself imprisoned in 1717 after a contractual squabble with the Duke of Weimar. Far from being traumatized by this experience, he used his few weeks of detention to compose Book 1 of ''The Well-Tempered Clavier.'' Gaines strives to dramatize Bach's other clash with authority -- over which official of St. Thomas's Choir School, Leipzig, had the right to appoint prefects -- but its thrill quotient is low ...

What Frederick thought of the ''Musical Offering'' when Bach mailed it to him two months after their meeting is not known. The likelihood is that he tossed it aside unperformed ...

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