Running into the Prince of Poland

I first bumped into him through the services of Andrew Manze. Manze's recording of The Concert for the Prince of Poland is elegantly, in places touchingly, played, though it is, like most Manze, a bit anemic. The Concert was Vivaldi's last published work. He sold it in order to finance his move to Vienna (where, alas, he soon died).

The CD's liner-notes described the public fetes put on by Venice to welcome the Prince of Poland -- regattas, andatas, fireworks and receptions. The Concert was written for these celebrations. But who was the prince? (The crown was elective, there was no such thing as a Prince of Poland).

The answer to that question came unexpectedly several years later, from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the author of the delightful Letters. It's a bit of a tragic story: in her middle age, with her marriage on the rocks, she allowed herself an affair and fell in love with a young Italian rogue (Algarotti -- that fellow keeps turning up everywhere, too). Probably tiring of her (nothing is as embarassing to a young lover than an older woman in love: love, being silly, is for girls), he'd hit on a great ruse: "You go to Florence, amore, and wait for me there" he said and left for... Dresden. Lady Mary went, pined and waited. Finally, she had to admit to herself what she had long suspected; she packed and went to Venice. And that turned out lucky: she happened to be there during the Prince's visit; she describes it in some detail. Better yet -- she met the Prince and befriended him. Some romantic gondola rides took place and touching private conversations were had: they were both star-struck: the prince was lame and had to be carried about by his footmen; his mother pressed him to quit the succession and enter holy orders.

And he was from Dresden.

That allowed me to identify him: he was Frederick Christian Wettin. His father, Augustus III, was simultaneously Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. The title Prince of Poland was not a title but an apellation. It certainly worked on the Venetians: like all Replebeians, they were easily impressed by titles.

That was 1740.

In the same 1740 Giuseppe Galli Bibiena published his Architetture e Prospettive dedicate alla maesta di Carlo Sesto Imperador de' Romani, a book of engravings among which are some of his stage designs (the four generations of Bibienas dominated European theater and stage design for about a hundred years). I stumbled upon it yesterday and among the engravings I disovered a series entitled "Scene de la Festa Teatrale in occasione delle Sponsali del Principe Reale di Polonia e Elettorale di Sassonia". (They are all hilariously over the top).

Freddie! I exclaimed as if meeting an old friend. Alas, no: Freddie did not marry till 1747. The Principe Reale in question here must have been his Dad, Augustus III, who married an Imperial Princess in 1719.


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