Anna Amalie – art as a purpose in life

by Anja Weinberger

Anna Amalie, who was usually called Amélie according to the custom of the time, must have been quite a strong-willed person. The husband envisaged by her parents in long planning did not meet with her approval and so the older sister stepped in, was promptly married off to Sweden.

This does not sound so unusual, however, I neglected to mention that Anna Amalie was the youngest sister of Frederick the Great, last daughter of King Frederick William I of Prussia and Sophie Dorothea of Hanover. The marriage candidate to whom she was to be joined was none other than the heir to the Swedish throne, Adolph Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp.

Amélie did not want to convert from Calvinism to Lutheranism under any circumstances. However, since this was a prerequisite for marriage, the family gave in and sent her sister Ulrike, who was three years older, to the Swedish court. [1]

Anna Amalie was born as the 12th child and sixth daughter of the royal couple. That was on 9.11.1723 and the mother had not noticed anything about the pregnancy until that day. The then 14-year-old sister Wilhelmine describes in her memoirs quite vividly how surprised mother and father together with the chambermaid were about the birth of the princess. The little girl was christened Amalie on the same day – after the English princess who was promised to her older brother Friedrich at that time. [2]

Antoine Pesne (Werkstattkopie), Prinzessin Anna Amalia von Preußen, nach 1744, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, URL: (Zuletzt aktualisiert am 24.02.2021)

Amalie’s father would later be called the “Soldier King” and family life was accordingly. Life at the Prussian court was spartan, and Amélie and her siblings received much less attention than, for example, the “Long Guys” recruited by King Wilhelm I for his regiment in Potsdam. Music education in general and the musical education of his daughters in particular played an extremely subordinate role for the soldier king.

Amélie’s brother, the flautist, composer and later King Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great /1712-1786), nevertheless received a thorough musical education as a child, while her sisters Amalie and Ulrike were not able to take up regular music lessons until after their father’s death; by then Amélie was already 17 years old. Accordingly, she received important initial musical stimuli from her much older brother and presumably also from her sister Wilhelmine, who was also older, but who was married off to Bayreuth in 1731, [3] when Anna Amalie was only eight years old.

Amélie tried her hand at a wide variety of instruments, but her main interest was the piano and later the organ. The letters [4] she exchanged with her brother Frederick throughout her life reveal how much music and music-making meant to her. She practiced several hours a day, often driving her siblings, with whom she was housed in a rather small space, to despair. However, this diligence soon paid off and her pianistic skills were soon the talk of the Prussian court.

In 1732, the big brother Frederick married the Bevern princess Elisabeth Christine. After the death of the Soldier King Frederick William I in 1740, she became Queen of Prussia alongside Frederick the Great. And there a very unpleasant trait of Amalie came to light. She competed with her mother and sisters in their new favorite pastime: how best to make life hell for the shy, insecure Elizabeth. Amélie seems to have had some unattractive character traits. Quite a few of her peers describe her as quite unpredictable, rude, and headstrong.

With Ulrike’s marriage in 1744, the music lessons of the music-loving Princess Amélie came to an end. And it was probably at this very wedding that an encounter took place that would be long remembered by posterity.

Amélie met the handsome, well-bred and extremely eloquent Ensign Friedrich von der Trenck. The latter was assigned as an inspector at the royal festival. How and whether an affair actually developed from this encounter is not clear to this day. However, this did not prevent the interested subjects from inventing a love story that contains everything one could wish for. Mutual love at first sight, differences of class making this union impossible, secret correspondences, political intrigues, separation of the lovers, a princess in a convent and a lover on the scaffold.

Now Trenk’s life actually included all this, in his memoirs he gives a flowery and dissolute account. There, however, the lady of his heart has no name. Trenk’s memoirs are still exciting to read today, even if he writes in a rather self-indulgent and extremely tendentious manner.  At least in the initiated circle, the knowledgeable and royally interested reader always thought he knew who was being talked about.


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But there was and is no real evidence. If one wants to believe the story, the fact that Amélie never married and became abbess of the Quedlinburg monastery in 1755 possibly fits into the picture. Normally, such a thing happens to provide for unattractive (i.e. too poor or too old or too ugly) princesses who could not find a groom worthy of their status. However, none of this applied to Amélie. She is unanimously described as the prettiest of the king’s daughters, well educated and provided with an appanage.

So did she enter the convent out of lovesickness? This version of the story can also be questioned. For would not the following be possible: Through the office of abbess in Quedlinburg, Amélie’s livelihood was secured and her social position was maintained in this way. In other words, she gained independence without having to marry. Not all princesses necessarily desire a fairy-tale prince to whom they give children and who rules over their lives.

Despite entering the convent, she spent most of her time in Berlin, where she devoted herself intensively to the arts, especially music. [5]

As is very often the case, it is almost impossible to make an accurate assessment of the situation that does justice to everyone and everything over this long temporal distance. One can try all the written records, all the official entries – what was actually going on in the minds and hearts, one will no longer be able to find out and classify.

Frederick the Great had been reigning since 1740. Through him, life at the Prussian court changed thoroughly. He brought Johann Joachim Quantz to Potsdam as his private flute and music teacher and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach as his personal chamber musician. There was music-making, composing, practicing and philosophizing. Amélie was there.


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In 1755, she had a two-manual organ built according to her ideas for the Lustgarten wing of the Berlin Palace. This was unusual for the time, since music was mainly played on the harpsichord or even the modern fortepiano for domestic use. This episode, however, fits in with the repeatedly put forward thesis that Anna Amalie’s musical and compositional taste was rather conservative and backward-looking. When she moved to a palace under the linden trees, she also had the organ moved. Amélie’s organ is still played today, for after quite a long wandering, it stands in the Church of the Glad Tidings in Berlin-Karlshorst.

Still during the Seven Years’ War, in 1758, she engaged the musician and music theorist Johann Philipp Kirnberger as her court musician and music teacher. She had already contacted him for the first time during the planning phase of the Amalien organ and asked for help regarding the organ disposition. Kirnberger revered the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who by this time had actually been consigned to the scrap heap by the music of his own sons’ generation. Amélie remained largely devoted to the old school through Kirnberger’s influence, but was certainly receptive to the new currents as well.[6] In 1767, she made Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach her private Kapellmeister for a short time before he moved to Hamburg to succeed Telemann. The young Bach held Amélie in high esteem and preferred her in musical matters to her royal brother.

In the years that followed, Amélie would amass a collection of sheet music that was of inestimable musical historical value. Among other things, she kept manuscripts by Johann Sebastian Bach, which played a central role in the Bach Renaissance at the beginning of the 19th century.[7] She also collected tracts and books on music, but unfortunately they have been untraceable since World War II.

Her main music-historical importance lies in her constant encouragement and support of other musicians. Carl Heinrich Graun was inspired by her to compose a Passion cantata with the text of Karl Wilhelm Ramler’s Der Tod Jesu [8], Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote his organ sonatas WQ 70 because of Amélie’s enthusiasm for the organ, although he himself had long since become unfaithful to his father Johann Sebastian’s favorite instrument. And Kirnberger was encouraged and supported by Amélie in the dissemination of his theoretical writings.

We flutists know Anna Amalie not only through the female composer renaissance of the last years. She wrote a very beautiful sonata in F major for flute and basso continuo, which can be found in the music cabinets of many musicians. In my opinion, this little jewel clearly shows that she took a liking to the sensitive style and composed with the future in mind.

Already around her fortieth year, Amélie had to struggle more and more with extremely troublesome illnesses. Today science thinks it can recognize that she suffered from multifocal dystonia. And it is now known that dystonia is particularly common in musicians. It is possible that Amélie’s passion was her undoing in this respect. At that time, however, this disease was completely unknown and Amélie tried to find relief with the usual bathing cures. She traveled to Aachen and to Spa – nothing could help her. Her physical condition seems to have deteriorated rapidly. Her limbs no longer obeyed her, her eyes ached, and her voice became rougher and deeper. She developed increasingly strange behaviors and lost contact with those closest to her.

Finally, in 1787, she died, still sixty-three years old, almost blind and with paralyzed hands, only seven months after her brother Frederick. King was now her nephew Frederick William II. Frederick William III was also already a young man and would meet his Luise in the years to come.

Even Anna Amalie’s last will and testament once again caused displeasure. For she bequeathed her valuable collection of books and sheet music to the Joachimsthal Gymnasium. The former Prussian princess and abbess of Quedlinburg was buried in the Hohenzollern crypt of the Berlin Cathedral.

More from Anja Weinberger can be found in her book “Kulturgeschichten – nicht nur für Flötisten” (Cultural stories – not only for flutists)!

References and literature used
1 ….. Two of Ulrike’s sons and a grandson subsequently became Swedish kings. The three were the last rulers of the Holstein-Gottorp dynasty. After them, rule passed to the Bernadotte line, which continues to provide the Swedish kings to this day.

2 ….. The plan of a double marriage between Great Britain, thus also Hanover, and Prussia was in the air at that time. Nothing came of it.

3 ….. There is also a “royal intermezzo” here. Wilhelmine was raised as the future Queen of England. Tactical wrangling, however, prevented this marriage. Thus, the princess was married to Frederick of Brandenburg-Bayreuth and became a margravine herself. As a patron of the arts, composer and opera director, she has left her mark on the cultural life of Bayreuth to this day. The Margravial Opera House, which she initiated, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012.

4 ….. Anna Amalie wrote much less than her sisters, however.

5 ….. How was that possible? Strictly speaking, Anna Amalie did not enter a convent, but joined a Protestant convent for women, which hardly burdened the respective ladies with a strict set of rules. Neither did they take a vow, nor did they live in poverty or necessarily behind convent walls. Presumably, however, none before or since has made such generous use of these freedoms as Amélie. And this time, too, she did not have to convert, but could become an abbess as a Calvinist. The enthronement in April 1756 was a solemn ceremony and a great celebration. She stayed only a few days and returned to Quedlinburg only twice after that on important occasions.

6 ….. 1783 she wrote to Kirnberger: “In all things a noble simplicity is far heavier and more lasting than accumulated school knowledge”. With this, she reveals herself to be a lover of the pre-classical musical style that was advanced by Bach’s generation of sons.

7 ….. Her valuable collection included the scores of the Brandenburg Concertos, the St. Matthew Passion, and the B minor Mass, among others.

8 ….. Graun’s Passion Cantata was extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. After its premiere on March 26, 1755, it was even the most performed Passion music in Germany.




Bose, Fritz: Anna Amalie von Preußen und Johann Philipp Kirnberger. In: Die Musikforschung, 10. S. 129–135, Berlin 1957

Haffner, Sebastian: Preußen ohne Legende, Hamburg 1979

Hein, Max (Hrsg.) Briefe Friedrichs des Großen, Berlin 1914

Jaenecke, Joachim, Art. Anna Amalia, Prinzessin von Preußen in: MGG Online, hrsg. von Laurenz Lütteken, Kassel, Stuttgart, New York 2016ff., zuerst veröffentlicht 1999, online veröffentlicht 2016,ü

Salentin, Ursula: Anna Amalia, Köln 2001

Trenk, Friedrich von der: das merkwürdige Leben des Freiherrn Friedrich von der Trenk, von ihm selbst erzählt, Berlin 2003

Wilhelmine von Bayreuth: Memoiren, Leipzig 1923

Weinzierl, Elisabeth u.a.: Flötenmusik von Komponistinnen, Mainz 2008


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