Home > About > News and Events > News Releases > News Releases 2005 > Noted History Writer to Speak at Moravian College
News Releases

Noted History Writer to Speak at Moravian College

James R. Gaines, former Time editor, to give public lecture as part of Bach Institute

Bethlehem, Pa., July 6, 2005—Cultural historian James R. Gaines, a former editor of Time and People magazines, will discuss his latest book about Frederick the Great and Johann Sebastian Bach during a lecture and book-signing, July 13 at Moravian College. Gaines will present “Bach and the Enlightenment: The Musical Offering in Context,” at 7 p.m. in Peter Hall. The lecture is open to the public and admission is free of charge.

Gaines is visiting the college to speak at a National Endowment for the Humanities Institute for Teachers (July 11-August 12) on Bach and his cultural world. Coordinated by music faculty members Hilde Binford, assistant professor, and Paul Larson, professor emeritus, the institute brings 25 elementary and secondary school teachers to Bethlehem to learn about Bach and the Age of Enlightenment: science, mathematics, philosophy, history, art, literature, and music.

Other faculty members of the Institute include Michael Marissen, chair of the music department at Swarthmore College and author of books and articles on Bach, Lutheranism, and anti-Semitism. The Bach Choir of Bethlehem also will participate in the Institute.

Gaines’ latest book, Evening in the Palace of Reason (HarperCollins, 2005), describes the events preceding and consequent to the visit of J.S. Bach to the court of Frederick the Great, the philosopher-king of Prussia, in 1747. Frederick was a musician—he played the flute and composed for it—as well as a writer, a political reformer, and the greatest military strategist of his day.

When Bach came to visit, at the invitation of his son Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Frederick’s court composer, the king gave the senior Bach a theme of his own devising and challenged him to write a three-voice fugue on the spot. Bach did, in a feat of astonishing improvisation. Then Frederick asked him to write a four-voice fugue on the same subject, and the composer said he needed a little more time for something so complex. He returned to his home in Leipzig and in three weeks composed his last great work, A Musical Offering, which included variations and a splendid fugue on the king’s tune. He sent it to Frederick, though there is no record of what the king thought when he received it.

Gaines’ book uses the writing of A Musical Offering as the outline of one of the major transitions of cultural history: the end of the Baroque era, defined by religious faith, complex musical rules, and emphasis on the emotions (or the “affects,” as they were called); and the almost complete reversal of values in the Enlightenment, which stood for rational thought, control of the emotions, and a revolutionary secularism.

Evening in the Palace of Reason has been critically praised for its accessibility and skillful explanation of what could be the arcane subjects of contrapuntal music and the philosophies of two important eras.

Moravian College’s composer in residence, Larry Lipkis, wrote: “Gaines is not a musicologist but has drawn extensively on numerous up-to-date sources, and his journalistic background is evident in the stylish, often humorous prose, which never bogs down in dry musical or historical minutiae. Lovers of music, European history, and Western philosophy will find this book an enormous pleasure.”

Gaines’ next book is about the Marquis de Lafayette, who was treated by the Moravian Brethren when he was wounded during the Revolutionary war. He may have been treated right at the Brethren's House, which was used as a military hospital during the war and is now part of the music and art complex on Moravian’s south campus. Gaines plans to stay for a week at the College and to visit other areas of Eastern Pennsylvania to research his subject.