Minna Brandes

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Today, the letter B stands for Minna Brandes (1765-1788), a German composer and singer whose compositions attracted attention mainly because she died so young. She was born in Berlin to a theatrical family and died only 23 years later in Hamburg. As a singer, actress, and fortepianist, she was well known in Hamburg and Anna Amalia, C. P. E. Bach, and Frederick the Great saw her perform. She wrote most of her compositions toward the end of her life. Shortly after her death, her father, along with the music director of the Hamburg Theater, Friedrich Hönicke, arranged for her compositional oeuvre to be published under the title Musikalischer Nachlass (A musical legacy).

RISM’s index of printed music (series A/I) records that copies of this musical memorial can be found today in Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Hungary (A/I: B 4221). It is a collection of twelve works of various instrumentation, including piano pieces, Lieder, arias, and orchestral music. With an impressive 518 subscribers to the original publication, interest in her music was quite high at the time. Sometime soon after this publication was issued, a man named Johann Gottlob Conrad made a note-for-note manuscript copy of the printed edition. The manuscript passed through the hands of three other owners before finding its way to the university library in Saale (D-HAu; RISM ID no. 230009947).

Brandes’s ability as a singer may be attested by the fact that she sang the role of Konstanze in the Hamburg performance of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1787. In seven RISM sources, all stage works, she is mentioned as a performer. So far, there are no known recordings of Brandes’s music.


Minna Brandes, Musik und Gender im Internet

Matthew Head, Sovereign Feminine: Music and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013)

Image: Lithograph by Heinrich Sintzenich and Rudolf Christian Schade, ca. 18/19th century? Muller Collection, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts/Music Division

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