Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia (1723-1787), the younger sister of King Frederick II of Prussia. She had an incredibly interesting life, being one of 14 children. She loved music and pursued composition, despite the lack of support from her royal family. Anna Amalia was, it seems, very brave in how she lived her life and made decisions. In 1743, she secretly married the infamous (and famous) Friedrich von der Trenck, a Prussian officer and author. Her secret husband’s adventures, it has been said, inspired writers like Victor Hugo and Voltaire. When Anna Amalia’s brother discovered her secret marriage (because Anna Amalia became suddenly pregnant), he had the marriage annulled and shipped his sister off to Quedlinburg Abbey to have her child out of wedlock. Anna Amalia and von der Trenck continued to correspond throughout most of their lives.
Anna Amalia became Abbess of Quedlinburg in 1755. She composed music, mostly smaller pieces, and was highly self-critical. Not many of her compositions have survived. Still, she wrote marches, songs, trios, fugues, and flute music, going as far as to seek professional instruction in musical theory and composition. Her coolness factor is off the charts. Here are some video performances of her music:
Anna Amalia was also an avid and devoted collector of music. She preserved “over 600 volumes of works by notables such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Georg Philipp Telemann, Karl Heinrich Graun and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, among others. Her works of curation alone represent a significant contribution toWestern culture.” (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Amalia,_Abbess_of_Quedlinburg) Her collection is still accessible today. It resides in Berlin, where Anna Amalia chose to spend much of her life, in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.
Here is a short blurb from the Oxford Music Online database, which is brief although present:
“German music patron and composer, the youngest sister of Frederick the Great. She was taught music by the cathedral organist, Gottlieb Heyne (1684–1758), and became a competent player of stringed keyboard instruments as well as the organ; she may also have played the violin, lute, and flute. She studied composition with J. P. Kirnberger and wrote a Passion oratorio, Der Tod Jesu, to a libretto by the poet K. W. Ramler. Her musical soirées attracted illustrious artists from all over Europe, though she increasingly disliked the more modern styles of her time. She left an extensive music library, now in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek, Berlin.”
Anna Amalia was a “lesser known figure in the Hohenzollern family,” (Harthan), where music was, it seems, taught and practiced. Harthan, in his article “Eighteenth Century Flute Music,” describes Anna Amalia’s flute sonata as “charming.” Despite her great love of music and her devotion, both as a composer and collector, to the art, she is not overly well-known. Many of the articles I looked through were in German which, of course, makes sense as she spent a great deal of her life in Berlin. There is also a different Anna Amalia within the Hohenzollern family, born in 1739, who is slightly more well-known.
It makes one wonder: was her tendency to be overly self-critical the reason that not many of her compositions remain today?