Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Forging of a Golden Age: King Frederick the Great and Music for Berlin, 1732 to 1756
by Exner, Ellen Elizabeth, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2010, 327; 3435576
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation repositions eighteenth-century Berlin, which traditionally has been considered peripheral, at the center of one of the most consequential developments in music's modern history. Previously overlooked primary sources – such as letters, pay records, early biographies, and contemporary periodical literature – reveal that under King Frederick II ('The Great," r. 1740-1786), three traditions combined to form the character of Berlin's unique musical landscape: 1) music cultivation within the Prussian royal family; 2) the renowned virtuosity of the Saxon Hofkapelle in Dresden; and 3) the Bach tradition, which was transplanted from Leipzig to Berlin through the unparalleled concentration of Bach's students who found employment in and around the Prussian capital.

The origin of Berlin's modern posirion as one of music's great capitals is traced in this study to the reign of King Frederick, who founded the city's first permanent musical establishments. Frederick's interest in music and the culture of learning he fostered beginning with the years at his princely residences in Ruppin and Rheinsberg (1732-1740) attracted musicians who were progressive thinkers as well as performers. When he became King in 1740, Frederick reinvigorated cultural life in the Prussian capital. In creating a Kapelle of virtuosi and building an opera house not sequestered in the palace, but freestanding in the city's center, Frederick II created an unmistakably public and enduring example of the importance of music to his reign. On the cusp of the 300th anniversary of Frederick's birth (2012), the time is ripe for a reappraisal of his accomplishments and those of the remarkable musicians, such as C. P. E. Bach, whom he hired to realize his artistic vision.

Fascination with the music of the past – especially Bach's – began in Frederick's time. Music collectors such as the kings sister, Princess Anna Amalia, and high-profile public figures such as Carl Friedrich Zelter then helped to transmit the era's musical values to the next generation, for whom the music of Frederick's rule became symbolic of a Classic age. Frederick, though, deserves sole credit for establishing the cultural foundations that not only helped determine music's role in his century but, because of Berlin's enduring artistic prominence, ours as well.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wolff, Christoph
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, Music
Keywords: Berlin, King Frederick the Great, Prussia
Publication Number: 3435576
ISBN: 978-1-124-34048-7
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