The melodies from twenty-five of Bach’s easiest keyboard pieces provide the score for A Potsdam Folly, or Who Wears the Pants in Prussia, a romantic comedy. When the sister and official hostess of King Frederick the Great of Prussia gives a May Ball, the King entrusts details to his head butler, who assigns guests their rooms and from whom no one can keep a secret. The King’s niece, Sophy, a feminist who longs to meet a man who will regard her as an equal but fears no such man exists, comes to the Palace in Potsdam and discovers her uncle and his generals are staying at the King’s all-male, no-women-allowed enclave of Sans Souci. She rebels against the policy, believing women are equal to men, and determines to infiltrate the compound. Dressed as a boy, she succeeds with her ruse, but the scheme backfires when she finds herself falling for Stefan, the handsome Field Marshal staying at Sans Souci. He fails to recognize her when she’s radiant in her gown at the ball the following evening. They dance and share their dreams. The next morning, Stefan tells his fellow officers at Sans Souci that he’s met the girl of his dreams. King Frederick laments the difficulties of reigning as an enlightened despot, and he cautions against believing war holds any glory. Then with her prank discovered and Stefan thinking he’s been made a laughingstock, Sophy fears that her own actions have destroyed her prospects for love. The King’s butler helps her to discover that free will can overcome the forces of fate and that honesty will lead to a way out of her dilemma. Sophy and Stefan meet in the garden pavilion, reconcile, and pledge their love before he must leave for the front lines of the Third Silesian War. Set at the Potsdam Town Palace and at Sans Souci, the story unfolds in songs using the melodic phrases of Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook, the Two-Part Inventions, and the Three-Part Inventions.
A Note from the Author
Several years ago, in the midst of my mid-life crisis, I decided to tackle the piano. As a boy and teenager, I had played coronet and then the tuba when the band teacher needed a tuba player. I played sixties folk songs on guitar, and in college took up the alto recorder. Reading music wasn’t a problem; controlling my fingers was. After working through the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, my teacher started me on Bach’s Two-Part Inventions. He would stop me in the middle of a piece I was trying to play and demand that I tell him what the two voices were saying. I asked if he meant in terms of tone or emotion. No, he said. What, exactly, were the words these voices were speaking? Literally. I had no idea. Soon I realized I wouldn’t be able to figure out what these voices were saying to one another until I knew who was speaking and under what circumstances. A Potsdam Folly began to take shape. I couldn’t stop until I knew how the story would end.
Edward Perlman has taught in the M.A. in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University for more than two decades. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Tin House, The Sewanee Theological Review, Passages, ¾ Review, and The Living Church. He has received an artist fellowship grant from The Washington DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. He launched ENTASIS PRESS in 2008, and over an eight-year period published award-winning books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction including Slipping the Moorings by Susan McCallum-Smith, Dislocation by Margaret Meyers, Spin by Moira Egan, and Part of the Darkness by David Rothman as well as anthologies of poetry and prose about both Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner..