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Learn about the piece:

Overture to Erwin und Elmire

Composed by

Princess Anna Amalia von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel



2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 horns, bassoon, strings

Composed 1776.
First performance: 24 May 1776. Hoftheater, Weimar.

Notes by Ransom Wilson.

It is challenging to find music written by women in the late 18th century. During that period, no woman could have Mozart's career. Instead, society of the time consigned them to make music as amateurs.

Despite this unfortunate censure, a few brilliant women were able to write good music and have it performed.

One such woman was Princess Anna Amalia von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, a harpsichordist, pianist, harpist, flutist, singer, and composer. She grew up in the royal household of Braunschweig, where she received a broad and liberal education, including drawing and instrumental lessons.

In 1756, she turned 16 and was married to the Duke of Weimar, who shared her love of music and theater. They, together, took the first steps to promote culture in Weimar by establishing a court theater. But within two years, the young duke died, leaving behind his wife and two small sons.

Thus began a new chapter for Duchess Anna Amalia. She was still not of age, so she had to wait a year before assuming the guardianship of her children. This officially made her regent while her first-born son was a minor. She began to prove herself a very capable stateswoman and set about to consolidate her disheveled duchy. Despite the austerity measures demanded, her palace remained an essential location for music with weekly concerts, including her and her talented family.

When her eldest son came of age and she was released from her duties as regent, she immediately bought her own villa. She made it available for concerts, balls, and theater performances. Free now to pursue her diverse interests, she gathered around her a group of writers, artists, and scholars and hosted what would later be called a salon.

It was here that poetry, painting, composition, and performance were king. The members eventually included Goethe, Wieland, and Herder, and they called themselves the roundtable. With her dedication to the greatest thinkers of her time, Anna Amalia established Weimar as a dominant cultural destination.

In 1788, she took an educational trip to Italy, where she heard a constant array of concerts, operas, and impromptu private musical evenings.

During the trip, this indefatigable woman started to study the guitar, which she brought back home with her. She began to play it in concerts and was almost single-handedly responsible for popularizing the guitar in all of Germany.

During most of her life, she also composed music, including operas, symphonies, and chamber music.

In our March 2022 concert, we're playing one her for military marches, surely written for a special occasion that has unfortunately been lost to history.

Coming 03/11/23

Triumph of The Human Spirit

Join us for an evening of music celebrating the nobility of the human spirit, including masterworks by Verdi, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev — showcasing the amazing Anne-Marie McDermott

More Pieces by Princess Anna Amalia von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel

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