A review by markgmcd
Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment by James R. Gaines


Gaines's book is as much about the Enlightenment conflict between faith and reason as it is about the principle characters and their meeting. Chapters 1-12 (of 13) alternate between biographies of "old Bach" and the young Prussian monarch, culminating in their meeting. The biographies succeed in leaving the reader with a decent understanding of the figures in the context of their world.
Evening in the Palace of Reason's principal flaw is that, while Gaines spends most of the book building tension between Bach's and Frederick's characters and philosophies, the account of the evening in question is brief and underwhelming.
Of interest to musicians and Bach fanatics are Gaines's analytical descriptions of several of Bach's great works, including Actus Tragicus, the Goldberg Variations, and, predictably, the Musical Offering. Gaines also describes in detail the forms of fugue and canon and argues that these forms were essential to the worldview of Bach himself.