There is always a collection of unread books here, but what with holiday and promming, there is also a (smaller) collection of read books at the moment, so it's review time.
I quite enjoyed this book, though I'm not entirely sure which constituency Gaines was aiming for here. It is often said that a popular science book will halve its audience for every equation it cites; and I wouldn't be surprised if the same could be said for a book containing excerpts of written music, and rather obscure and technical canons at that. Gaines suggests that the theme on which Frederick laid his challenge to Bach may have been composed by Bach's own son, C P E Bach, who was a Potsdam court musician at the time; though Frederick was musically talented, the theme is specifically constructed to make it indisposed to fugual treatment, as noted later by Schoenberg. For the most part the book is biography - with chapters alternating between Bach (whose life was documented essentially in passing at the time) and Frederick the Great (whose life was documented quite deliberately by virtue of his position). Gaines draws the story somewhat filmically, focusing on Bach's middling social status, the fragility of life of those around him and the frequently difficult relations with his employers; and on Frederick's life the story focuses on difficult family relationships, especially the abuse by his father, but also taking in his military career, as it proceeds towards the meeting between the two men in Potsdam in 1747, and poses them as opposed on all fronts: belonging to different generations, holding different religious beliefs, (of course) with different social positions, and with different musical tastes. Yet the story has something of an anticlimax, as Gaines draws the conclusion that neither man ever heard a performance of the result of their meeting, A Musical Offering.