12 January 2015

Today's Princess: Anna Amalia of Prussia, Abbess of Quedlinburg

via Wikimedia
Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia was a legendary monster to his family. He used brutal language and even more brutal acts, feeling justified in tormenting them whenever he desired. He even dragged youngest daughter, Anna Amalia, by her hair when he was in his rages. Dedicated to the military, he viewed the artistic interests of his wife and children as frivolous and forbade them to indulge in music and theatre.

When he died, 17-year-old Anna Amalia could finally explore her musical talents. Her equally musical brother, the new King Friedrich II, taught her how to play the essential instruments of the day: harpsichord, flute and violin. Meanwhile, Friedrich also sought a royal husband for her. Anna Amalia had other ideas. She secretly wed one of Friedrich's soldiers, Baron Friedrich van der Trenck. Their liaison could not be kept secret when she fell pregnant. Infuriated her brother packed her off to Quedlinburg Abbey, a kind of 18th century home for unwed mothers and protestant convent. It is rumored that she was delivered of twins. (The Baron was imprisoned, but escaped. He was recaptured and imprisoned again. He spent much of his life as a spy, in and out of captivity before meeting his end on the guillotine in revolutionary France.)

Anna Amalia seems to have thrived at the abbey, where she was free to pursue her musical interests, and even began writing her own compositions. Few of her works have survived, partly because she destroyed them herself, in fits of perfectionism. More importantly, she collected works by contemporary German composers, including C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Telemann and J.S. Bach. Her extensive collection is credited with helping revive the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach. More than 600 volumes from her collection are kept today at the State Library in Berlin.

Anna Amalia assumed a lot of authority when she became the Princess-Abbess of Quedlinburg, a self-ruling estate that was part of the Holy Roman Empire, subject only to the Emperor.

For more information:
Princess Anna Amalia and CPE Bach on the CPE Bach web site
Princess Anna Amalia. Secretly Married Composer. Princess. Abbess. on Feminir
Two Prussian Anna Amelies and Their Influence on German Culture on Holocaustianity (includes more about Baron Friedrich van der Trenck)

Samples of her compositions:
March for the Regiment General of Saldern
Flute Sonata in F
Sonata for Oboe and Organ in F Major


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