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CATHERINE THE GREAT AND THE ROLE OF CELEBRATORY MUSIC AT THE COURT OF ANHALT-ZERBST

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 November 2006

Abstract

As Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great (1729–1796) shaped not only history in general but also, as a member of its princely family, the history of Anhalt-Zerbst. Drawing upon little known eighteenth-century manuscripts housed at the Landeshauptarchiv of Saxony-Anhalt in Dessau and the Francisceumsbibliothek in Zerbst, this study assesses the impact of Catherine’s marriage in 1745 to Grand Duke Peter of Russia (1728–1762) on musical life at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst during and after the thirty-six-year tenure of Kapellmeister Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758). First the role of music at the court prior to 1745 will be considered – specifically the ‘Concert-Stube’, an inventory of the Hofkapelle’s musical library prepared according to Fasch’s specifications in March 1743. The second section of this article focuses on the celebrations held at the court in 1745 on the occasion of Catherine the Great’s wedding. The Hofkapelle premiered a large-scale serenata by Fasch, the music to which has been lost. However, an examination of the extant libretto and of other music by Fasch that was performed at the court during the 1740s sheds light on the musical forces he would have employed and the compositional approach he might have taken. The Hofkapelle also performed a secular wedding cantata for bass solo and instruments by an anonymous composer as part of a spectacular fireworks display in three acts, the ‘Anhalt-Zerbstisches Freuden-Feuer’ (Fire of Joy), chronicled by Zerbst headmaster Johann Hoxa. Finally, it is possible to reconstruct a performance schedule of sacred music premiered in honour of Catherine the Great from 1746 to 1773. Despite Fasch’s death in 1758 and the Seven Years War, which led to the town of Zerbst being occupied by 16,000 Prussian soldiers for three years until 1761, new music was commissioned by the court from Fasch’s successor Johann Georg Röllig (1710–1790), Catherine the Great’s keyboard instructor at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst. He not only provided occasional compositions to commemorate her birthday and accession to the Russian throne but also composed a new cycle of Sunday cantatas to reflect the changing artistic priorities and practices of the Hofkapelle in the early 1760s.

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Copyright
2006 Cambridge University Press

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CATHERINE THE GREAT AND THE ROLE OF CELEBRATORY MUSIC AT THE COURT OF ANHALT-ZERBST
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