A Musical Monarch

Above left: Friedrich the Great on the Flute performing with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach on the Harpsichord and Frantisek Benda on the Violin; Right: Quantz

In 1747, 62 years old Johann Sebastian Bach visited the Prussian court of 35-year-old Friedrich. Bach had to travel twenty hours from Leipzig to attend at the Royal Palace in Potsdam. When Bach arrived, Friedrich was about to begin his regular evening concert in which he played the flute. Upon hearing of Bach’s arrival, he laid down his flute and said, ‘Gentlemen, old Bach is here’ and invited Bach directly in to try his newest Gottfried Silbermann fortepiano, one of seven which were located in different rooms. During the visit, the King played a short tune intended for Bach to improvise. On his return to Leipzig, Bach developed the theme and entitled it ‘A Musical Offering’ which he sent to the Court with a thank you and a dedication. Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, was Friedrich’s harpsichordist during his last years as Crown Prince and he remained with him for nearly thirty years in the stimulating environment of Berlin and Potsdam, where he composed more than 300 works.

Johann Joachim Quantz, 1697-1773, prodigious composer of flute music, came to the Prussian court to instruct the young Crown Prince Friedrich in 1728, and he remained there the rest of his life, composing over 200 flute sonatas and 300 flute concertos, plus trio sonatas and vocal music; Quantz is best known for his exhaustive manual on flute playing. He and Friedrich worked on music together and played together ceaselessly. Quantz was also a master flute maker. There was a magnificent collection of his flutes in the Hohenzollern Museum until it was looted by the Red Army at the end of World War Two. The flutes ended up in Russia damaged, fragmented and without cases. Only two flutes were returned to Germany, in 1958.