History Hunt: Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia

A brief announcement before we head into today’s History Hunt post: History Hunt is now on Tumblr! If Tumblr is more your thing than WordPress, then follow my blog at musichistoryhunt! Hope to see you there!

Now, back to the main post!

After our stay in the late 1800s, it’s time to head back to the 1700s to visit the first of two composers with the same name: Anna Amalia.

Our first Anna Amalia was, in fact, a princess! She was born November 9, 1723 in Berlin, Prussia (now eight different countries, including Germany). She was the youngest girl of fourteen children.

Prussia in the 1700s

Prussian territory in the 1700s, including Anna Amalia’s home city of Berlin.

Unfortunately, life was very difficult for Princess Anna when she was growing up, because her father was cruel and abusive. He also hated music, and he forbid any of his children from taking music lessons. That didn’t stop Princess Anna, or one of her sisters and one of her brothers. They all learned how to make music in secret, and her older brother was her first music teacher. She learned how to play the flute, violin, and harpsichord, and this last was the instrument she played to help her forget the deep difficulties of her family life.

After her father’s death when she was sixteen, life suddenly got much better for Princess Anna. Her music-loving brother became king and promptly hired multiple court musicians, and she could at last go to the opera.

She also fell in love…but her relationship ended sadly. Though her brother had been a music-loving ally under her father’s reign, he hated the man Princess Anna had fallen in love with and actually went so far as to throw him in prison for ten years–ending her relationship for good.

When she was twenty-two, Princess Anna began studying organ and took more violin lessons. A year later, in addition to being a princess, Anna also became an abbess, of Quedlinburg, though she kept living at Berlin. It was here she used her money and influence to encourage other composers, and in 1758, she started studying composition seriously, with one of J.S. Bach’s students. She even had an organ built in her house!

While she composed a variety of music, Princess Anna was unusual among the female composers of her day in that she also enjoyed composing marches. This genre was considered a “masculine” one, but that didn’t matter to Princess Anna: if she wanted to write marches, she was going to write marches!

Sadly, not much of Princess Anna’s music survives. It’s possible that she may have even destroyed some of her own works, as she once called herself “timorous and self-critical.” (Wikipedia) The library of her favourite music that she built, however, has fared much better. While a few compositions were lost during World War II, most of her collection of over six hundred works (some of them autographed) still exists. Even now, two hundred and fifty years later, Princess Anna Amalia is still sharing her love of music with the world.

Listen below to the the third movement of Princess Anna’s Sonata for flute and basso continuo in F Major, Allegro ma non troppo:

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (Sources):
Women and Music: A History, ed. Karin Anna Pendle (Note: Descriptions of child abuse in the link. Discretion is advised.)
Women Composers: The Lost Tradition Found, by Diane Jezic and Elizabeth Wood
Anna Amalia, Abbess of Quedlinburg on Wikipedia (Note: Descriptions of child abuse in the link. Discretion is advised.)

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