Evening in the Palace of Reason

Download Audio
photoIn 1747, composer Johann Sebastian Bach, elderly and deeply tied to an old world of myth and mysticism, accepted an invitation by the young, ambitious warrior-king Frederick the Great of Prussia.

It was a fateful meeting, where the old, dark religious world of Bach faced off with Frederick the Great, son of the Enlightenment, a powerful monarch tuned to empiricism and reason. Frederick the Great presented Bach with a fiendish musical challenge, the frustration over which led Bach to compose "A Musical Offering," considered one of the great works in the history of music.

In telling their encounter story in a new book, author James R. Gaines says their meeting was a clash of ages, of fundamental world views and understandings of life that still rages on.

Hear a conversation about the epic encounter between Bach and Frederick the Great — and the clash between faith and reason.


James R. Gaines, former managing editor of Time, People and Life magazines. His new book is "Evening of the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment.";

Tony La Vopa, professor of History at North Carolina State University and co-editor of "Enthusiasm and Enlightenment in Europe, 1650-1850."

This program aired on March 11, 2005.


More from On Point

Listen Live