Anna Amalia, Abbess of Quedlinburg

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Anna Amalia, Abbess of Quedlinburg
Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia
Portrait as an amazon by Antoine Pesne from before 1757
Princess-Abbess of Quedlinburg
Reign1755–30 March 1787
PredecessorMarie Elisabeth, Abbess of Quedlinburg
SuccessorSophia Albertina, Abbess of Quedlinburg
BornAnna Amalie von Preußen
9 November 1723
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia
Died30 March 1787 (aged 63)
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia
FatherFrederick William I
MotherSophia Dorothea of Hanover

Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia (9 November 1723 – 30 March 1787) was an early modern German composer and music curator who served as princess-abbess of Quedlinburg. She was a princess of Prussia as the daughter of Frederick William I of Prussia and the sister of Frederick the Great.

Early life (1723–1755)[edit]

A throne room with a middle-aged lady in a silver dress standing in the middle, facin a man in a gilded red coat. Between them is a little girl in a light blue dress and a boy. Behind the lady stand five young girls, descending in height towards the edge of the canvas. Many courtiers are standing in the bacgkround.
1729 painting by Antoine Pesne showing the visit of Augustus II the Strong (1670–1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Amalia's mother stands in the center, her sisters on the queen's right and a 6-year-old Amalia on the left, in light blue.

Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia was born on 9 November 1723 in Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia as the 12th child and 7th daughter of King Frederick William I (1688–1740) and his wife, born Princess Sophia Dorothea of Hanover (1687–1757). She had 13 siblings, 10 of whom survived infancy, including the future Frederick the Great (1712–1786).[1] The Prussian royal children were raised in Berlin, where they lived in the Royal Palace (Königliches Schloss; today Berlin Palace/Berliner Schloss), but they also regularly spent time in the king's favourite residence, a jagdschloss ("hunting lodge") in Königs Wusterhausen.[2]

Amalia was musically inclined, just like Crown Prince Frederick, but her formal instruction was only possible after the death of their abusive father[citation needed] who considered music to be decadent.[3] Frederick William had an unpredictable temper,[4] often dragging her across a room by her hair in a rage.[citation needed] Amalia's childhood was overshadowed by her father: described as an uneducated, unpolished and spartan soldier, he was an alcoholic whose favourite hobby was smoking pipes with commoners, an extremely pious and narrow-minded Calvinist[4] who loved his wife and was faithful to her, but behaved violently towards his whole family, courtiers, and anyone who upset him.[5]

He preferred a simple life and only enjoyed German food and culture, detesting everything French.[2] He thought that women are for breeding only and have to be completely submissive to their husbands.[6] On the other hand, Queen Sophia Dorothea was a well-educated and ambitious woman who enjoyed theatre and balls and loved French culture and fashion. She entrusted the care of her children to a French staff, to which the king could not object as French was the language of international diplomacy.[4] Music became Amalia's secret consolation.[citation needed] She was first taught by Crown Prince Frederic with the support of their mother, and learned to play the harpsichord, the flute, and the violin.[citation needed]

The king was especially cruel to the crown prince as he considered his passion for music, literature and French culture unmanly.[7] After many beatings and much humiliation, Frederick attempted to flee to their mother's family in England in 1730, but was captured and court-martialed. For her part in the escape attempt, the king almost beat his eldest daughter Princess Wilhelmine (1709–1758) to death.[8] Amalia was 7 years old at the time. In May 1740, Frederick William II died and Amalia's eldest brother succeeded him as Frederick II.[9]

Suggested marriage (1743–1744)[edit]

After Prince Adolf Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp (1710–1771) was elected heir of the childless king of Sweden, Frederick I in 1743, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden pursued an alliance.[10] A marriage was suggested between the new Swedish crown prince and either Amalia or her elder sister Louisa Ulrika (1720–1782). Their brother King Frederick thought that Louisa Ulrika was too ambitious to be a good queen in a relatively powerless monarchy[11] as Sweden was then in the Age of Liberty (1720–1772), a period of parliamentary governance.[10] He described Amalia as mild and good-hearted and thus more suitable for the role. It has been suggested that he believed that Amalia would be easier to control as a Prussian agent in the Swedish court. However, the Swedish envoy preferred Louisa Ulrika, and she was married by proxy in July 1744.[11]

Abbess, composer, and music curator (1755–1787)[edit]

An old lady's face and upper body from profile. She had a big nose and start facial features. Her hair is braided under a cap with a black veil on top.
Posthomous portrait by the Realist artist Adolph Menzel.

In 1755, after the death of the previous abbess, Duchess Marie Elisabeth of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp (1678–1755), Amalia was elected princess-abbess of the Free Secular Imperial Abbey of Quedlinburg (German: Kasierlich Freie Weltliche Reichsstift Quedlinburg),[12] which made her a wealthy and influential woman with the right to sit and speak in the Imperial Diet.[13] She spent most of her time in Berlin and devoted herself to music, becoming known as a patron and composer.[citation needed] In 1758, she started studying music theory and composition from Johann Kirnberger(1721–1783), a student of Johann Sebastian Bach.[citation needed]

She achieved modest fame and is most known for her chamber music, including trios, marches, cantatas, songs, and fugues.[citation needed] Her favourite among her own compositions was the passion cantata Der Tod Jesu ("The Death of Jesus"), based on a poem by Karl Wilhelm Ramler.[citation needed] Only a few of her works have survived and she may have destroyed many of her own compositions, as she described herself as very timid and self-critical.[citation needed] More compositions by her may surface as a result of the 2000 discovery of the archives of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin in Kyiv which had been lost since World War II.[14]

Amalia also collected music, preserving over 600 volumes by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Georg Philipp Telemann, Carl Heinrich Graun and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, among others. Her library was split between East Germany and West Germany after World War II and reunited after the German reunification of 1990. Today it is housed in the Berlin State Library.[14]

Princess-abbess Anna Amalia died on 30 March 1787 at the age of 63[15] and was buried in Berlin Cathedral. She was succeeded by her niece, Princess Sophia Albertina of Sweden (1753–1829).[citation needed]

Selected compositions[edit]

Sonata in F Major (for Flute and Basso Continuo) (1771)[edit]

I. Adagio, II. Allegretto, III. Allegro ma non troppo[16]

Her flute sonata is maybe Amalia's most well-known composition.[17] It has a duration of about 11 minutes.[16]

Harpsichord Concerto in G major[edit]

I. Allegro, G minor, II. Andantino, C major, III. Allegro, G major

The concerto is scored for solo harpischord, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, and strings. It is written for a chamber orchestra and can be played with as few as one person per part, with a duration of around 13 minutes. It has a well-integrated solo part, and the second movement is mainly orchestral. The finale resembles a minuet with a trio featuring wind solos.[18]

Divertimento in B-flat major (circa 1780)[edit]

I. Adagio, B-flat major, II. Allegro, B flat major

The divertimento shows a possible influence by Mozart and might be the first chamber music featuring a clarinet. It opens with a tutti part and is then lead by the viola.[18]

Based on the title page of the Divertimento (from, it was actually composed by Duchess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel



  1. ^ Huberty et al. 1989, p. 162.
  2. ^ a b Mitford 2013, pp. 28–29.
  3. ^ Farquhar 2001, p. 114.
  4. ^ a b c Mitford 2013, p. 27.
  5. ^ Atkinson 1858, pp. 132–133.
  6. ^ Leitner 1993.
  7. ^ Mitford 2013, p. 19.
  8. ^ Atkinson 1858, pp. 179–182.
  9. ^ Atkinson 1858, p. 205.
  10. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 206.
  11. ^ a b Jägerskiöld 1945.
  12. ^ Huberty et al. 1989, pp. 162, 172.
  13. ^ Benecke 2014, Appendix III.
  14. ^ a b Grimsted 2003.
  15. ^ von Ammon 1768, Table 16.
  16. ^ a b "Anna Amalia Princess of Prussia (1723–1787). Sonata in F major. (for flute and continuo)". EarSense. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  17. ^ "Anna Amalia, Princess of Prussia". ZKM. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  18. ^ a b "Women of Note. Celebrating two hundred and fifty years of music by women. Anna Amalia (1739–1807)". Oboe Classics. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  19. ^ Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 16.


External links[edit]

Anna Amalia
Regnal titles
Preceded by Princess-Abbess of Quedlinburg
Succeeded by