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A Royal History of Princesses and Music

Date: 17 July 2017

Author: Joanna Marschner

When Caroline of Ansbach moved with the Hanoverian court to London in 1714, Britain saw the start of a new era of princess-led musical connoisseurship. Caroline, who had largely been educated at the court in Berlin, was an able musician: she sang, and played the harpsichord. It was there as a young woman that she first encountered George Frideric Handel, and he composed several short works ‘for her… practise’.

However her talents were far eclipsed by her children. Handel, who followed the Hanoverians to London, was called on to provide their music lessons, and claimed Anne, Caroline’s eldest daughter, was the ’Flower of all Crown Princesses’, who alone could move him ‘to any teaching’.

‘The Music Party: Frederick, Prince of Wales with his three eldest sisters’, painted by Philippe Mercier in 1733, represents a family united in harmony, as they make music together. The artist, in fact, read the situation completely inaccurately: Frederick, his parents and his brother and sisters did not get on at all!

Portrait of Queen Caroline of Ansbach when she was fifty years old. The Queen is dressed in a loose gown lined with an ermine collar. Her hair is coiffed around jewellery and interlaced with a string of pearls.

Image: Queen Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737) c.1735 Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

A love of music to distraction runs through our family

Princess Charlotte, eldest daughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

A young man playing the cello, accompanied by three young women playing the harpsichord, playing a type of lute, and reading poetry respectively.

Image: 'The Music Party': Frederick, Prince of Wales with his Three Eldest Sisters 1733. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who married George III in 1761, was another very able musician. Like Caroline she both sang and played the harpsichord. After recruiting Johann Christian Bach, the son of the more famous Johann Sebastian Bach, to lead the Queen’s Band, concerts were held in the royal homes twice a week. Charlotte, her mother-in-law Augusta of Saxe-Gotha and her children would all perform.

In 1764, the eight-year-old Mozart performed for the court at Charlotte’s invitation. He accompanied her as she sung, and he dedicated six sonatas to her. Preserved in the Royal Music Library, now held within the British Library, is the first copy of these works, written out by young Mozart’s father, Leopold.

Joanna Marschner
Senior Curator

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