The Library of a Prussian Princess
Barn Cottage Records BCR024. 60’25
Music by J S Bach, Handel, Corelli, Geminiani, C P E Bach, and Princess Anna Amalia
The Prussian Princess of the title is Anna Amalia (1723-1787), the younger sister of Frederick the Great. Despite the brutal childhood she shared with her brother, she managed to maintain a love of music, often in secret and aided by her brother. After a failed attempt to marry her off in her early 30s, she became the Abbess of the secular Imperial Abbey of Quedlinburg, a position of enormous wealth and power. Shortly after she started serious musical studies with Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a pupil of Bach and had a (still existing) organ built for her Berlin palace. She amassed an enormous library of music which is now part of the Berlin State Library. This imaginative and beautifully performed recording by Ensemble Augelletti is based on music from that library, including four pieces by Anna Amalia herself.
In her excellent liner notes, the founder of Ensemble Augelletti, recorder player and researcher Olwen Foulkes, explores the background to the music and Anna Amalia’s “astonishing musical life as both a composer, a patron, an organist, a promoter, and a curator of musical scores.”. If her own four little fugues recorded here are anything to go by, she was a more than competent composer. I hope Olwen Foulkes continues to explore her music
Olwen is joined by Ellen Bundy, violin, Carina Drury, cello, Toby Carr, lutes, and Benedict Williams, keyboards. The playing is wonderful, with exquisite sensitivity, a refined tone and perfect balance between the instruments. It was recorded in the National Centre for Early Music in York, with a chamber-like resonance that must have been similar to Anna Amalia’s own musical soirees. A video of a recording session can be viewed here.
J S Bach: Trio Sonata in G Major BWV 1039
Princess Anna Amalia: Fugues in D Major, A minor, C Major, Am.B 479
G F Handel: Trio Sonata in F major Op. 2 No. 4
A Corelli: Trio Sonata in B-flat Major Op. 1 No. 5
F Geminiani: Trio Sonata in D minor Op. 2 No. 5
J S Bach: Trio Sonata in G Major BWV 1038
C P E Bach: Trio Sonata in C Major H. 571