Hello, all! Apologies for the delay between History Hunt posts. My studio continues to grow, which is great news for me, but makes it hard for me to find time to do the research for these posts. I’ll keep trying to make them as regularly as I can, though, because the History Hunt series is very important to me.
So, this week, we’re going to be meeting our second musical Anna Amalia–our first was Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, who I featured last summer. Unfortunately, up-to-date information about this Anna Amalia is sparse at best and inaccessible at worst, and so I’ll have to rely on old sources. This means that, though I’m doing my utmost to ensure this post is accurate as always, not having access to newer scholarship means some of my information may be outdated.
Also, please note that child neglect and misogyny are discussed in this post.
Anna Amalia of Saxe-Weimar was born a princess on October 24, 1739 in Wolfenbüttel, in what’s now Germany. She was her parents’ ninth child, but sadly, rather than being excited to welcome another member of their family, her parents were disappointed that she was a girl. They neglected her terribly in favour of her older siblings, which left Anna deeply unhappy.
Even her teachers treated her poorly, something she didn’t at all deserve. Eventually, with no one to turn to, she devoted herself to learning in order to bring herself happiness. Luckily, there were a great many musicians and artists at the court of her father, Duke Charles I (also known by his German name of Karl I). She took music lessons from a professor at Collegium Carolinum, a university her father founded.
When she was sixteen, she married Duke Constantine of Weimar in an arranged marriage. However, in spite of what’s usually thought about arranged marriages, this was a great relief for Anna. She saw it as a way out of her unhappy home, and so she gladly married the eighteen-year-old Duke and moved to Weimar to become its new Duchess.
Life in Anna’s new home was hard at first, as Weimar was much poorer than the household in which Anna grew up. The arts weren’t valued nearly as much in Weimar as they were in her old home. Still, she kept her chin up and persevered.
Sadly, when Anna was eighteen, her husband died of illness. Because their son was still an infant, this left her ruling Weimar in his stead, first with a fellow guardian, and then, once she was twenty-one, alone.
Anna had a long road ahead of her: Weimar was in tough shape and had little money. However, that didn’t discourage her. She was used to studying, and so she started learning about how to run a duchy as soon as possible. Though it took years, she brought Weimar back to its former riches. She also encouraged artists, musicians, writers, and actors to come to her court. Some of the most famous artists of her day soon arrived, putting Weimar on the map as an important cultural centre.
It wasn’t only other people who made music around Anna, though. She was a composer herself, and though only a few of her pieces survive, one of them is the opera Erwin und Elmire, which she composed when she was about thirty-six. When writing this opera, she united two different opera styles with the traditional music of the area to create what’s been called “an important artistic milestone in the development of German Opera by a major historical figure in her own right.” (Tregear)
Nowadays, Anna is best known for the Duchess Anna Amalia Library, which she established personally, starting it off with around two thousand books. Even after a terrible fire in 2004, it still houses over a million volumes–including the published manuscript of her own opera. Though she’s no longer a well-known composer, her influence can still be felt to this day.
Here’s a sample of Anna’s music in the form of a trailer for her opera, Erwin und Elmire. More of the opera can be found by searching its title on Youtube.
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To Learn More (Sources):
A Grand Duchess: the Life of Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and the Classical circle of Weimar by Frances Gerard
Abstract of Anna Amalia (1739–1807) Erwin und Elmire (1776) Full Score with Critical Essays by Peter Tregear
Weimar, Germany on the Encyclopædia Britannica website
Duchess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel on Wikipedia.org
Duchess Portrait Missing Since WWII Returns to Her Heirs on Bloomberg.com (Image Source)