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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Sermons in sound'

A fresh look at Bach contrasts his music with Prussia's Frederick II

Johann Sebastian Bach, who followed Martin Luther’s mandate for “music to deliver sermons in sound,” always has been regarded as the quintessential Lutheran composer. A recent book analyzes this assessment in a fresh and helpful way. Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines (Fourth Estate/Harper Collins, 2005) compares Bach (1685-1750)—his music and his attitude toward that art—with the view of King Frederick II, “the Great” (1712-86).

Frederick, who ruled Prussia during Bach’s later years as a musician in neighboring Saxony, represented the new order, the Age of Enlightenment. He saw the arts as an expression of individual creativity and a source of pleasure for listeners. Deeply devoted to music, he was a composer and a respectable flautist.


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