Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen

Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen

Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen (b. Köthen, 28 November 1694 O.S. - d. Köthen, 19 November 1728 N.S.) was a German prince member of the House of Ascania and ruler of the Principality of Anhalt-Köthen. Today, he is probably best remembered for employing Johann Sebastian Bach as his Kapellmeister from 1717 to 1723.

He was the second but eldest surviving son of Emmanuel Lebrecht, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen by his morganatic wife Gisela Agnes of Rath, created Imperial Countess of Nienburg in 1694.


Early years

Recognized with his surviving brother and sisters princes and princesses of Anhalt with all appertaining rights on 28 June 1698, Leopold succeeded his father when he died in 1704, with only ten years old. His mother, the Dowager Princess Gisela Agnes, acted as regent on his behalf; but the King Frederick I of Prussia, according to the late Prince's will, became in his Upper guardian. Since the beginning, some conflicts arose between the King and the Dowager Princess: Frederick preferred a Reformist education for Leopold, but Gisela Agnes, a devout Lutheran, planned raised his son in her faith. In the meanwhile, the King had founded the Knight's Academy (German: "Ritterakademie") in Brandenburg an der Havel, and in 1708 he decided to send Leopold there. In November of that year, and during the festivities of the King's new marriage, the Berlin court watch the great opera musical "Alexander and Roxana" of Augustin Reinhard Stricker where the fourteen-years-old Leopold acted as a dancer.

The Grand Tour

On 9 October 1710 Leopold began his Grand Tour. He was escorted by the Lutheran Jobst Christoph von Zanthier, because "no suitable Reformed crew could be found". The Tour first took him to The Hague during the winter of 1710-1711 where he developed his lifelong love of opera began: in only four months, he could go to the opera twelve times. The opera work of Jean-Baptiste Lully impressed him and acquired a "Rare fascination of the Opera of Monsieur Lully". Also, he could learn to play the harpsichord and violin. His travel diary are now in the Köthen Historical Museum.

After Leopold's return in 1711, the King Frederick I wanted to made him a Commander of his army, but the opposition of the Dowager Princess withdrew this idea. Instead, Leopold travel again, this time to England, where he visited the opera in London and the University of Oxford, where he was especially interested in his famous library.

Next on his itinerary, he visited Rome, and Venice, where he spend 130 Thalers only in opera visits. Later, he travel to Florence, Turin and finally Vienna, where he acquired the "Book with 12 Cantaten" of Francesco Mancini. On 17 April 1713, Leopold returned to Köthen. In total, he spend in his trip the sum of 55,749 Thalers. In 1714 he seized the opportunity of created a court "Kapelle" of his own, when the Royal Prussian court orchestra was disbanded, and employing many of the Berlin musicians. Its first conductor was the opera composer Augustin Reinhard Stricker, who was succeeded by Bach three years later.


Family disputes

On 30 November 1715 Leopold was declared adult and began his personal rule over Anhalt-Köthen, and on 14 May 1716 he formally took possession over the "Schloss" (main residence). His mother, the Dowager Princess, moved to her state in Nienburg.

But the problems quickly began for the Prince. In 1702 the "Primogenitur" was installed in Anhalt-Köthen; for this, he forced his younger brother Augustus Louis to resign to a joint government. As compensation, Leopold gave him the exclave of Güsten -with his old "Schloss" build in 1547 by Prince George III- and the town of Warmsdorf with all his incomes (who by the years 1715-1716 ascended to 9,893 and before to 13,094 Thalers), as well to other concessions.

Nevertheless, in the following years Leopold had repeated disputes with his brother Augustus Louis in Warmsdorf, as well with his mother in Nienburg. In 1718 (or 1719) Augustus Louis sent armed men in two Leopold's towns in order to take them. His own mother was informed to all these situation and supported his younger son. In revenge of that humiliation, in 1721 Leopold, with additional troops, marched to Nienburg, but soon mother and son were reconciled. In August 1722 Leopold and his brother were finally reconciled and made a definitive divisionary treaty, but their mother was not part of the settlement.

Relationship with J.S. Bach

Leopold most likely made Bach's acquaintance at the wedding of his sister Eleonore Wilhelmine with Ernest Augustus I, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, held at his mother's state in Nienburg on 24 January 1716. When Stricker left his post in the following year, Leopold lost no time in offering the job of Kapellmeister to Bach, who signed his contract on 7 August 1717. But Bach couldn't broke properly with his former employer Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar, who arrest him during some months. Only in the beginning of 1718 Bach could finally took his new post in Köthen.

Much of Bach's secular music, including the "Brandenburg Concerti" and "Part I of the Well-Tempered Clavier," stem from his years at Köthen. Leopold's "Schloss" is now a museum, and a bi-annual Bach Festival is held in the very locales where much of his music was first performed.

Leopold was a gifted violinist who often participated in the orchestra. Bach composed several cantatas and a serenade in Leopold's honour. Leopold stood as godfather of Bach's son, Leopold Augustus, who died in infancy in 1719. In 1723 Bach was dismissed of his post and left Köthen, but he and Leopold continued their personal friendship for the rest of the latter's short life.

Marriages and Issue

In Bernburg on 11 December 1721 Leopold married firstly with his cousin Fredericka Henriette (b. Bernburg, 24 January 1702 - d. Köthen, 4 April 1723), daughter of Karl Frederick, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg. They had one daughter:
#Gisela Agnes (b. Köthen, 21 September 1722 - d. Dessau, 20 April 1751), married on 25 May 1737 to Leopold II, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau.

Apparently, Leopold named his daughter after his mother as a gesture of reconciliation between them.

In Weimar on 27 June 1725 Leopold married secondly with Charlotte Fredericka (b. Siegen, 30 November 1702 - d. Stadthagen, 22 July 1785), daughter of Frederick William I, Prince of Nassau-Siegen. They had two children:
#Emmanuel Louis (b. Köthen, 12 September 1726 - d. of smallpox, Köthen, 17 August 1728).
#Leopoldine Charlotte (b. Köthen, 3 September 1727 - d. of smallpox, Köthen, 6 September 1728).


The only son and heir of Leopold succumbed to smallpox in August 1728; the Prince's second daughter, who also contracted the disease, died in early September. Soon Leopold caught the smallpox too; on 17 November he played his violin for last time and died two days later, aged thirty-four. During his burial in the Princely crypt of St. Jakob in Köthen an early version in at least ten parts of what was to become the "St. Matthew Passion" for two choirs and orchestra was performed.

Bach arrived from Leipzig on 23 March 1729 to perform the cantata "Kinder, klagt es aller Welt" who he had specially composed for the Prince's funeral.

Without surviving male issue, Leopold was succeeded by his brother Augustus Louis.

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