The princess of fugues
Updated: Apr 29
History often bears surprising facts. It might seem astonishing to us today, but the most performed passion of the 18th century was neither Bach’s St Matthew nor his St John Passion, but Der Tod Jesu by Carl Heinrich Graun. And the initiative behind this important work came from a woman: Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia commissioned a text from the German poet Karl Wilhelm Ramler, which she set to music herself. Her teacher held the work in such high esteem that he published parts of it as models of counterpoint in his treatise Die Kunst des reinen Satzes.
Born in Berlin, Anna Amalia was the youngest sister of king Frederick II (‘the great’). Both were musically inclined, but for Anna Amalia formal musical instruction was only possible after the death of her music-hating father. Music seemed to be her secret consolation against his cruelty to her. Encouraged by her more civilized mother, Anna Amalia learned to play the harpsichord, flute, and violin, receiving her first lessons from her brother. In 1758 she began serious studies of composition with Johann Philipp Kirnberger. With her teacher she shared a passion for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Ensemble Diderot recorded one of her fugues on the award-winning Berlin Album.
Anna Amalia never married and chose to spend most of her time in Berlin, where she devoted herself to music, and became known as a musical patron and composer. Her contributions to the vibrant musical life in Berlin cannot be underestimated. Anna Amalia organised concerts in her residence at the Stadtschloss and was an avid collector of music, preserving an impressive amount of works by composers such as Bach, Handel, Graun, Telemann and others.
Only a few of her works have survived. She may have destroyed many of her compositions, as she described herself as being very „apprehensive and self-critical“, but her works of curation alone represent a significant contribution to Western culture. Split up between East and West Germany after World War II and reunited only in 1990, her library of about 2000 volumes has yet to reveal many more gems.
The Berlin Album
Winner "International Classical Music Awards"
> discover the album here