Baroque v. Enlightenment

I just finished reading Evening in the Palace of Reason by James Gaines. It tells the story of the one and only meeting between Johann Sebastian Bach, Baroque composer par excellance, and Frederick the Great of Prussia, autocrat of the Enlightenment. In order to embarass the aged composer, Frederick presented "old Bach" with a 21-note Royal Theme, asking for a three part fugue to be improvised on the spot, "which was a bit like giving word salad to a poet and asking for a sonnet."

Bach provided a fugue of remarkable complexity and beauty, only to have Frederick respond drolly, "can you do it in six parts?" Bach demured, and Frederick had won, until a fortnight later when Bach finished his "Musical Offering" for Frederick: the original three-part fugue, a four movement trio sonata, the promised six-part fugue, and ten canons.

Gaines book tells the story of the arrival of the Enlightenment in Germany in the person of Frederick the Great, but at the same time, Bach serves as the perfect foil for the overly ambitious (optimistic, even) Enlightenment thinking that attempted to remove all mystery from the world. Bach stubbornly resists the new age, maintaining to the end that there is mystery in the world, that God exists, and music can lead us to Him.

The tension between Bach and Frederick, between faith and reason, is unresolved to this day. Some even argue that the tension between red states and blue states is just a twenty-first century incarnation of a two hundred and fifty year old conundum.

"The world of the early twenty-first century has no trouble knowing Frederick: that mocking, not-really-self-effacing skepticism, the head-fake toward principle during a headlong rush toward the glamour of deeds. His mask and his loneliness are all too familiar. Bach is more of a stranger, a refugee from 'God's time' displaced to a world where religion can be limited o a building and a day of the week, or dispensed with altogether. The chasm that opened with the Enlightenment between the secular and the sacred has grown only wider...."
Gaines would like to see this tension resolved in a synthesis of the sacred and the secular, of faith and reason. The human condition, I fear cannot allow this. The tension, though, is not bad. It is in fact creative. Just look at the world that has been created as a result of the tension the Enlightenment brought into the Western world.