Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: The “Amusa”

Friederica Henrietta of Anhalt-Bernburg
Friederica Henrietta of Anhalt-Bernburg (1702-1723), the “Amusa”

On December 11, 1721 – 302 years ago today – Johann Sebastian Bach’s employer, the 27-year-old Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (1694-1728), married the 19-year-old Friederica Henrietta of Anhalt-Bernburg (1702-1723).  She was the fourth daughter (and youngest child) of Charles Frederick, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg (1668-1721) and his first wife, Sophie Albertine of Solms-Sonnenwalde (1672-1708).

We can only hope that the kids enjoyed their wedding, because, sadly, their marriage was not fated to last for very long.

(Allow me, please, a small bit of editorial bloviation. Speaking as a lower middle-class American kid born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in South Jersey – meaning someone with zero tolerance for all this royalty stuff – I find all of these puffed-up hereditary royals insufferable in both their titles and their actions.  Among the actions of the literally hundreds of “princes” and “princesses” of the Holy Roman Empire was to intermarry, for generations, with other such “people of quality,” meaning their cousins.  A brief look at their life spans – which are, indeed, representative of their “class” – reveals how well that turned out.  Bach’s beloved boss, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, lived for all of 33 years.  

Leopold’s father, Emmanuel Lebrecht of Anhalt-Cöthen [1671-1704] lasted just 33 years as well, though Leopold’s mother – Anna Eleonore of Stolberg-Wernigerode [1651-1690] – managed to live for 39 years.  Leopold’s wife – Friederica Henrietta, the Amusa of this post’s title – lived to be only 21.  Her parents – Charles Frederick, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg and Sophie Albertine of Solms-Sonnenwalde did a bit better, living, respectively, to the ages of 53 and 36.  Meanwhile, our magnificent Johann Sebastian Bach lived to be 65 and would certainly have lived longer if not for a botched cataract operation by a quack “oculist” named “Chevalier” John Taylor who, incidentally, lived to be 69 years of age. 

”Chevalier” John Taylor
”Chevalier” John Taylor (1703-1722)

Speaking strictly for myself, if I had to choose between a “title” and a long life span, I’ll choose life span every time.) 

Back, please, to the wedding of Prince Leopold and Princess Friederica Henrietta.  It was a lavish and extended five-week long affair, one that put my cousins Arthur and Larry Gottlieb’s Bar Mitzvahs in Massapequa, Long Island, to shame.

Unfortunately, for Bach, the wedding was something else: it was the final nail in the coffin lid of what had once been his dream job: that of Kapellmeister (master-of-music) for the court of Cöthen, in the central German state of Saxony-Anhalt.  It was a position he had held since 1717 and one that he had hoped to hold for the remainder of his life.  

Alas; as the old Yiddish saying goes, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht, meaning “man plans, and God laughs.”

Sebastian Bach (as he was known to his family, friends, and colleagues; “Johann” was but a Bach family patronymic that went back generations) was nobody’s fool.  He knew his worth, and at a time when artisans like himself were expected to keep a low profile and “know their place,” Bach was an outspoken, often troublesome, even cantankerous employee, something that got him into trouble on a regular basis.…

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