Sophie Charlotte of Hanover
- Kaleb J. Koslowski
- and Caryl Clark
Princess of Hanover, Electress of Brandenburg, and Queen in Prussia. Musical culture in and around Berlin flourished at the turn of the 18th century as a direct result of her activities as a musical patron, performer, composer, and collector.
Sophie Charlotte was the only daughter of Ernst August of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Sophie of the Palatinate. She was thrust into a lifestyle of courtly competition from an early age. The court at Osnabrück was relatively obscure, overshadowed by the wealthier and more politically prominent seat at Hanover ruled by her father’s brother, Johann Friedrich. Her mother determined to overcome this by immersing Sophie Charlotte in the arts. As a child she received instruction in singing, courtly dance, and religion, and in French, Italian, English, and Latin. During the 1670s and into the 1680s, the family visited Versailles, Venice, Brussels, and The Hague. These visits included recurring attendance at opera and ballet performances, and provided the foundation for Sophie Charlotte’s cultivation of music as a courtly and sociopolitical tool later at Hanover and Berlin.
Her musical education proper began in early 1680 when the family moved to Hanover following Johann Friedrich’s death. Sophie Charlotte began keyboard study under the organist Johann Anton Coberg (1650–1708). Coberg not only tutored the princess in practical studies at the harpsichord but also in counterpoint and improvisation. The repertoire she studied likely included an admixture of French pieces, widely published and available at the time, and north German music by Coberg’s contemporaries.
In October 1684 Sophie Charlotte wed Friedrich, Electoral Prince of Brandenburg, who had been widowed the previous year. Although a satisfactory match, the families detested one another, and the move to Berlin proved personally difficult for Sophie Charlotte. She continually argued with Friedrich’s courtiers over her spending on concerts, ballets, and other entertainment. Eberhard von Danckelmann, Friedrich’s closest financial advisor after his succession in 1688, considered the electress’s interests especially profligate. Consequently, she spent much time away from Berlin during the first years of her marriage. Letters to her mother and to close confidants, including the composer-diplomat Agostino Steffani (1654–1728) and the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716), attest to these difficulties. Circumstances improved following Danckelmann’s removal from office in 1697.
Musical culture at the Berlin court flourished thereafter as never before. Beginning in the 1690s, Sophie Charlotte brought the finest Italian, French, and German musicians to Berlin for extended ‘visits’. She especially sought out Italian composers and performers of opera, and organized numerous festive concerts and ballets. Singers and composers included Attilio Ariosti, Ferdinando Chiaravalle, Luigi Mancia, Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, Giuseppe Torelli, and Valentino Urbani. Among the venues for these performances were the so-called Theater auf dem Stallplatz (a temporary structure erected in the royal stables in Berlin’s city centre), the Oraniersaal of the main palace in Berlin, and the Gartensaal of the royal palace at Oranienburg.
In 1695 Friedrich gave Sophie Charlotte a parcel of land near the town of Lützow west of Berlin, and construction began almost immediately on a residence. The palace of Lützenburg – today Charlottenburg, renamed for the queen following her death from pneumonia in 1705 – figured as the hub of her musical and patronal activities following its completion in 1699. An opera house fashioned after the one in Hanover adjoined the palace and served as the official venue for elaborate staged productions. Its presence initiated the rise of Italian opera in Berlin. Performances also took place in the surrounding gardens.
Sophie Charlotte developed a unique brand of patronage at Lützenburg. She worked closely alongside the musicians and thinkers she hosted there as guests rather than servants. Many remained at Lützenburg for weeks and even years at a time. Ariosti especially developed a close relationship with her, remaining in her service from 1697 until 1703 and figuring as ‘dear Attilio’ in letters to both Steffani and Leibniz, with whom she also maintained close friendships.
Guests at Lützenburg comment on her proficiency at the keyboard, her regimented daily practising, and her presence in the orchestra or on stage for productions. When Telemann visited in 1702, he noted that the queen performed at cembalo for the premières of Giovanni Bononcini’s one-act operas Cefalo and Polifemo along with Ariosti and other leading musicians. When the English theologian John Toland visited in autumn of the same year, he relayed Bononcini’s high praise of Sophie Charlotte’s compositions as ‘most exact’, as well as her excellence at the harpsichord. Although evidence suggests she composed keyboard music, operatic pieces, and chamber music, no known work survives.
She received numerous dedications as electress and queen, most notably Pistocchi’s opera Narciso (Ansbach, 1697), Torelli’s Concerti musicali op.6, and Arcangelo Corelli’s op.5 sonatas for solo violin. Fragments of her substantial library survive today at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.
- J. Toland: An Account of the Courts of Prussia and Hanover; Sent to a Minister of State in Holland by Mr. Toland (London, 1705)
- O. Klopp, ed: Correspondenz von Leibniz mit Sophie Charlotte, Königin von Preußen (Hanover, 1877/R1970)
- R. Doebner: Briefe der Königin Sophie Charlotte von Preußen und der Kurfürstin Sophie von Hannover an hannoversche Diplomaten (Hanover, 1905/R1965)
- A. Ebert: Attilio Ariosti in Berlin: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Musik am Hofe König Friedrichs I. von Preußen (Leipzig, 1905)
- C. Sachs: Musik am kurbrandenburgischen Hof (Berlin, 1910/R1977)
- F. Bose: ‘Ariosti und Bononcini am Berliner Hof: Anmerkungen zu zwei Gemälde in Schloß Charlottenburg’, AMw, vol.22 (1965), 56–64
- R.-S. Pegah: ‘“Hir ist nichts als operen undt commedien”: Sophie Charlottes Musik- und Theaterpflege in den Jahren 1699 bis 1705’, Sophie Charlotte und ihr Schloß: Ein Musenhof des Barock in Brandenburg-Preußen, ed. Stiftung Preussische Schlößer und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg und Schloß Charlottenburg (Munich, 1999), 83–9
- K. Feuerstein-Prasser: Die preußische Königinnen (Regensburg, 2000)
- K. Gayegh-Pisheh: Sophie Charlotte von Preußen: Eine Königin und ihre Zeit (Stuttgart, 2000)
- R.T. Senn: Sophie Charlotte von Preußen (Weimar, 2000)
- F. Göse: Friedrich I. (1657–1713): Ein König in Preußen (Regenburg, 2012)