Dresden in the Age of Absolutism

  • George J. Buelow
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


Of all the cities in central Germany during the late Baroque era to symbolize the Age of Absolutism, Dresden was the foremost example of cultural achievements attained in the cause of political ambition. Before its destruction in World War II, Dresden was often called the Florence on the Elbe and presented a cityscape of magnificent buildings — the electoral palace, the Zwinger, the court churches and opera house — that recalled a period in the history of Saxony unequalled before or after in the splendour of its physical beauty. With the break-up of the empire at the end of the Thirty Years War (1648), the Saxon princes began a determined development to place themselves at the centre of German political influence, an influence that could be challenged at that time only by Bavaria. When Friedrich August I (‘August the Strong’) succeeded to the electoral throne in 1694 Dresden had already become a cultural centre of elaborate, court-directed festivities. Three years later he was elected King of Poland, and the Saxon-Polish alliance seemed to achieve the goals envisaged by earlier rulers, Johann Georg II ( 1656–80), Johann Georg III (1680–91) and Johann Georg IV (1691–4). It was, however, a fragile union, threatened first by the bellicose Swedes and later by the rapid rise to power of Brandenburg-Prussia, which in the mid-1750s under the guidance of Frederick the Great destroyed Saxony’s short-lived centrality in German power politics.


Opera House Musical Ensemble Crown Prince Elaborate Court Triumphal Arch 
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Bibliographical Note

  1. Although the development of music in Dresden, especially at the Saxon court during the Baroque, was particularly important, the literature is quite limited. For the period circumscribed by this essay, only a few studies, largely in German, stand out as major sources of information. Despite its origins in the mid-nineteenth century, the fundamental work remains that of Moritz Fürstenau (1824–89), a flautist in the Dresden royal Kapelle and librarian of the private royal music collection. His comprehensive (for its time) history of music and theatre at the Dresden court appeared in two volumes: Zur Geschichte der Musik und des Theaters am Hofe der Kurfürsten von Sachsen, Johann Georg II, Johann Georg III, und Johann Georg IV and Zur Geschichte der Musik und des Theaters am Hofe der Kurfürsten von Sachsen und Könige von Polen, Friedrich August I (August II) und Friedrich August II (August III) (Dresden, 1861–2, facs., 1971). Almost nothing of significance followed Fürstenau’s work until the publication of I. Becker-Glauch’s Die Bedeutung der Musik für die Dresdener Hoffeste bis in die Zeit Augusts des Starken (Kassel, 1951). With her extensive research in the available archives in Dresden (many of them still difficult to find, or lost in the aftermath of World War II), Becker-Glauch greatly expanded upon Fürstenau’s account of the elaborate court festivals that established Dresden’s fame as an outstanding cultural centre.Google Scholar
  2. A good overview of music in Dresden during the Baroque is contained in H. Schnoor’s Dresden: vierhundert Jahre deutsche Musikkultur (Dresden, 1948).Google Scholar
  3. For a fine study of sacred music at the Dresden court during the late Baroque, see W. Horn, Die Dresdner Hofkirchenmusik 1720–1745 (Kassel, 1987).Google Scholar
  4. A number of vivid iconogra-phical representations of Dresden court festivals appear in E. A. Bowles, Musical Ensembles in Festival Books, 1500–1800: an Iconographical & Documentary Survey (Ann Arbor, 1989). Oper in Dresden: Festschrift zur Wiedereröffnung der Semperoper, ed. M. Rank and H. Seeger (Berlin, 1985), includes among the essays three of significance to the late Baroque: M. Rank and H. Seeger, ‘“Was Dafne gibt, das bleibt!”: der Kontinuitätsgedanke in der Dresdner Operngeschichte’;Google Scholar
  5. J. L. Sponsel, ‘Das Festjahr 1719’;Google Scholar
  6. O. Landmann, ‘Die Dresdner “Ära Hasse” (1733–1763)’. The only major study of Hasse’s operas is F. L. Millner’s The Operas of Johann Adolf Hasse (Ann Arbor, 1979). Early in this century a important study of Hasse’s sacred music also included a useful thematic catalogue: W. Müller, Johann Adolf Hasse als Kirchenkomponist (Leipzig, 1911). The oratorios are examined in M. Koch, Die Oratorien Johann Adolf Hasses: Überlieferung und Struktur (Pfaffenweiler, 1989). A number of specialized studies concerning various aspects of Hasse’s operas and sacred music appear in Colloquium Johann Adolf Hasse und die Musik seiner Zeit: Siena 1983, published in AnMc, no.25 (1987).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Granada Group and Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

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  • George J. Buelow

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