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Anna Amalia [Amalie, Amélie], Princess of Prussia(i)locked

  • Darrell Berg

(b Berlin, Nov 9, 1723; d Berlin, March 30, 1787). German patron, amateur musician and composer. The youngest sister of Frederick the Great, she seems to have sought and received his advice on musical matters. A music exercise book, dated 1735, which she shared with her sister Luise Ulrike, indicates an early commitment to musical studies, but it is not certain precisely when Amalia’s formal musical training began. By 1740 she and Ulrike were receiving regular instruction from the cathedral organist, Gottfried Hayne (1684–1758), and this continued until 1742. Amalia apparently reached a high level of accomplishment as a player of stringed keyboard instruments and in about 1755 began to devote herself enthusiastically to playing the organ. Although contemporary reports, including her own letters, suggest that she also played the lute, the violin and the flute, they indicate that she was far less proficient on those instruments.

Amalia began studying composition in earnest in her mid-30s. In 1758 she engaged J.P. Kirnberger, a pupil of J.S. Bach, as her teacher, and under his tutelage she acquired considerable knowledge and mastery of counterpoint. In 1754 she had commissioned the poet K.W. Ramler to write a libretto for a Passion oratorio, and she allegedly set this entire libretto, entitled Der Tod Jesu, to music (the more renowned setting by the royal Kapellmeister C.H. Graun was composed and performed in 1755). Kirnberger later included two numbers from Amalia’s setting (the only ones still extant) as models for professional composers in his Die Kunst des reinen Satzes in der Musik. Amalia’s other surviving compositions were mostly composed in the 1770s and early 1780s; they display some skill, but little originality. Most are housed in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz (in the collections of both the former Königliche Bibliothek and the Amalien-Bibliothek); a few have appeared in 20th-century editions.

In 1755 Amalia became abbess of the secularized convent of Quedlinburg, a position which afforded her a comfortable income and made almost no demands on her time. She continued to make her home in Berlin, where she held musical soirées attended by the artists and intelligentsia of Berlin and Europe (including Baron Gottfried van Swieten). She expressed her musical views freely, emphatically and often harshly to all who came within her orbit. Although she found enjoyment in listening to German Singspiele of the 1770s, she responded, like Frederick the Great, to most new styles that developed during her lifetime with increasing disapproval. In a letter to Kirnberger about Iphigénie en Tauride she expressed a particularly unfavourable opinion of Gluck, whom she considered greatly inferior to Graun and Hasse; on the other hand, she bestowed respect and support to C.P.E. Bach, and in 1768, as he prepared to leave Berlin for Hamburg, she named him her honorary Kapellmeister.

Amalia’s greatest significance to music lies in her music library, a collection of incalculable value. It is particularly rich in 18th-century music – that of J.S. Bach above all. The collection was begun with Hayne’s assistance while she was still under his tutelage, and after Kirnberger became her teacher he advised her in the selection of compositions for the library and supervised the preparation of many of the manuscripts that were housed in it. Almost half of the items were acquired from Kirnberger’s estate after his death in 1783; this collection included, in turn, many items that Kirnberger had inherited from the estate of Amalia’s chamber musician Christoph Schaffrath (1709–1763).

Amalia willed her library to the Joachimsthalschen Gymnasium in Berlin. In 1914 the music was transferred on permanent loan to the Königliche Bibliothek in Berlin, remaining intact and under its own name there. At the present time the catalogue of the Amalienbibliothek and the volume of letters and handwriting studies by E.R. Wutta, née Blechschmidt, constitute the most complete account of the history and contents of the library.

Works

MSS, most autograph, in D-Bsb (some in Amalien-Bibliothek), DS

Vocal

Der Tod Jesu (Passion orat, K.W. Ramler), after 1754, inc., 2 nos. extant: Du dessen Augen flossen (chorale), Sein Odem ist schwach (chorus), in J.P. Kirnberger, Die Kunst des reinen Satzes in der Musik (Berlin, 1776/R), i, 226–8, ii, 75–88; chorale also ed. J.F. Christmann and J.H. Knecht in Vollständige Sammlung … vierstimmiger Choralmelodien (Stuggart, 1799)

Der Bruder und die Schwester, 2vv, bc, 1776

5 lieder, 1776–8

Dir folgen meine Tränen, lv, bc, 1777

lo morrò spietato amante, aria, S, A, str, bc, 1780

21 chorales, 1778–80, incl. Man lobt dich in der Stille, in J.C.F. Rellstab, Melodie und Harmonie (Berlin, 1778)

Instrumental

Chamber

Sonata, fl, bc, 1771

Fugue, vn, va, 1776

Allegro, 2 vn, bc, in Kirnberger, Die Kunst des reinen Satzes in der Musik (Berlin, 1776), ii, 89–96; Circle Canon, 5 insts, 1779

6 marches, ww insts

Keyboard

4 elaborated chorales, 1777–8

Trio, org, ed. C.F. Becker, Caecilia (Leipzig, n.d.) ii, no.8

Bibliography

  • R. Eitner: Katalog der Musikalien-Sammlung des Joachimsthalschen Gymnasium zu Berlin (Berlin,1884); repr. in MMg, 16 (1884), suppl.
  • C. Sachs: ‘Prinzessin Amalie von Preussen als Musikerin’, Hohenzollern-Jb, 14 (1910), 181–91
  • F. Bose: ‘Anna Amalie von Preussen und Johann Philipp Kirnberger’, Mf, 10 (1957), 129–35
  • P. Kast: Die Bach-Handschriften der Berliner Staatsbibliothek (Trossingen, 1958)
  • E.R. Blechschmidt: Die Amalien-Bibliothek (Berlin, 1965)
  • E.R. Wutta: Quellen der Bach-Tradition in der Berliner Amalien-Bibliothek (Tutzing, 1989)
  • B.G. Jackson: ‘Say can you deny me’: a Guide to Surviving Music by Women from the 16th through the 18th Centuries (Fayetteville, AR, 1994), 22–8
  • D. Berg:: ‘C.P.E. Bach’s Organ Sonatas: a Musical Offering for Princess Amalia?’, JAMS, 51 (1998), 477–519
Die Musikforschung
E.L. Gerber: Neues historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler
Monatshefte für Musikgeschichte
Journal of the American Musicological Society
E.L. Gerber: Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler