Sunday, March 13, 2005

Bach/Frederick the Great

In James R. Gaines' thoughtful, fascinating new book, Evening in the Palace of Reason, the music-obsessed Emperor invites the aging Sebastian Bach to his palace for music. C.P.E., Sebastian's successful son, worked for Frederick, made a different sort of music from his dad and perhaps nursed a grudge against him. Upon reaching Frederick's Palace Bach was challenged to compose multipart fugues and variations on themes so relentlessly peculiar it is said that C.P.E. must have written them to torment his father. You'll have to read the book to find out what happened and to reflect as Mr Gaines reflects so wisely on the relationship of the European Enlightenment to the world that went before. Gaines writes with a smooth easy style frequently allowing amusement to show through his basically serious intent. You'll learn a lot you don't know and you might just happen to spin Bach's immortal A Musical Offering on the old gramaphone. Or if you are younger than I, I'm sure you can download it.

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