A royal history of Princesses and music

“A love of music to distraction runs through our family”
Princess Charlotte, eldest daughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

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

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

‘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!

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

To discover more about Handel’s musical legacy on today’s pop and rock hit, book a ticket to From Baroque to Rock at Kensington Palace on Friday 18 August 2017. Tickets from £10.

Enlightened Princesses is on at Kensington Palace until 22 June – 12 September 2017

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