Frederick II, the “Arcadia of the Mark Brandenburg” in Rheinsberg, and the musicians of his court orchestra

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – People and Places

Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773), etching by Johann David Schleuen d.Ä. (1767). (Source: Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Inventar-Nr. A 17045)Two of C. P. E. Bach’s fellow students from his period in Frankfurt an der Oder were the sons of Prussian minister Franz Wilhelm von Happe, and this was probably how the contact to his future employer Frederick II was established. Bach’s “Berlin Period” begins in 1738, at a time when Frederick, then Prussian crown prince, was not yet present in the city himself, but mostly at Rheinsberg Palace close to Berlin, in the county of Ruppin. Frederick II had received the Palace as a gift from his father, which at first may seem inconsistent with the king’s militaristic and ascetic harshness towards his son, but at second glance emerges as an act in line with his intentions. Rheinsberg Palace was supposed to become a love nest for the crown prince and his spouse, Elisabeth Christine of Braunschweig (1715–1798), who so far had shown little interest in each other, and encourage them to beget the so fervently desired offspring.

In this remote region, an “Arcadia of the Mark Brandenburg” as he called it, Frederick now indulged in the musical and literary inclinations he had inherited from his mother. Here he gathered an illustrious society of artists, musicians, diplomats and scholars, initiated a pen-friendship with Voltaire, whom he admired, and applied himself to music – playing the flute and composing. In brief, Frederick held a “court of the muses” in Rheinsberg.

Gottfried Hempel, Rheinsberg Palace (1764, lost). (Source: Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg, GK I 8430)

With Frederick’s accession to power in 1740, C. P. E. Bach must at the latest have come to know the musicians of the court orchestra. Orchestra director Carl Heinrich Graun (1704–1759) had already recommended himself to Frederick as the composer of the opera La Specchio del Fedeltà on Frederick’s wedding day; as a concert master his brother Johann Gottlieb Graun (1702/03–1771) was more inclined towards instrumental music and thus became Cammer-Musicus (chamber musician) at the Prussian court. As composers both were strongly influenced by Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783), who worked at the elector’s court in Dresden. Educated in Naples he widened the influence of Italian music in Germany, especially in the opera seria, lending it a jovial note  that even affected Mozart. Hasse’s and the Graun Brothers’ music was the ultimate formal model for Frederick’s taste, which he strictly adhered to until reaching old age.

C. P. E. Bach also made the acquaintance of Bohemian native violinists Franz (1709–1786) and Johann Georg Benda (1713–1752). Franz (Frantisek) Benda, who later became Gaun’s successor as orchestra director, was Frederick’s companion during practically all his musical life. By inclination C. P. E. Bach was closely attached to another one of the four Benda brothers, George Anthony (Jiri Antonin) Benda (1722–1795). In contrast to  most musicians associated with Frederick, he, like Bach, cultivated a progressive Storm and Stress style that would eventually even influence Beethoven.

The Flute Concert in Sanssouci, painting by Adolph Menzel (1850/52). Beneath Frederick II playing the flute and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach playing cembalo, Johann Joachim Quantz and Franz Brenda (to the right, Franz Brenda playing violin) are also shown. (Source: Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Alte Nationalgalerie, Raum 1.05)

But Frederick’s musical confidant Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1772) who had procured the Benda brothers must be considered the most influential musical personality at Rheinsberg Palace. As a virtuoso flute player and the author of the influential Attempt on the True Way to Play The Flute Traversière (1752), he had met Frederick for the first time in Berlin in 1728 and had been engaged on the spot after an audition. In his opulently remunerated position as Composer of the Court and Chamber Musician (from 1741) he composed at least 300 flute concertos and 200 flute sonatas exclusively for Frederick II, which therefore could not be publicised in print. Quantz was also the only musician permitted to praise or criticise Frederick’s performance on the flute.

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