"Shot up six foot high
To catch a glimpse of a god of war
The darling of comrades everywhere
And demigod to beautiful dames,..."
These verses make up the beginning of Theodor Fontane’s 1857 ballad about Prince Louis Ferdinand von Preussen (1772–1806), the grandson of the “Soldier King” Friedrich Wilhelm I and the nephew of Friedrich the Great. An astute connoisseur of the arts and an ambitious warrior, devil-may-care bon vivant and lionised lover – the Prince was one of the most scintillating personalities of his time, a true “star” on the social stage.
As one of the leading figures of the “Berlin War Party”, Louis Ferdinand actively fought against King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s policy of neutrality towards Napoleon. He liked to be seen frequenting the saloons of Berlin and was in contact with many of the major intellectual and artistic figures of his time. On top of this, Louis Ferdinand was a celebrated pianist and gifted composer, and his friendship with Ludwig van Beethoven is well-known. Beethoven even dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 3 to the Prince. Though the published musical oeuvre of the prince from the House of Hohenzollern comprises a mere 13 works, they were widely disseminated and significantly influenced later composers such as Robert Schumann. Louis Ferdinand’s importance as “the first Romantic in the history of music” continues to be underestimated.
This exhibition, organised by the Kunstgewerbemuseum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin together with the association Musik in Brandenburgischen Schlössern and occupying two rooms in Köpenick Palace, places particular focus on the Prince’s musical production, set against the backdrop of important phases in his turbulent life during a time of radical historical upheaval. It was not just his physical appearance and musical ability, but above all his early death in combat against Napoleon’s troops at the Battle of Saalfeld that contributed heavily to Louis Ferdinand’s rapid glorification as the heroic “Prussian Apollo”. In the House of Hohenzollern on the other hand, his lifestyle and his oppositional stance led to him long being viewed as an enfant terrible.
Important biographical, musical and historical aspects are presented in the exhibition on informative text and image panels, using a number of original documents. A striking image of the ornate furnishings and fittings of the Berliner Salon at the time of Louis Ferdinand is conveyed by seldom-exhibited works from the rich holdings of the Kunstgewerbemuseum.
Alongside this small exhibition, numerous compositions by Prince Louis Ferdinand and his contemporaries will be performed as part of the festival Berliner Frühlingsklassik, in the Gobelins tapestry room in the Bode-Museum, and in the concert series Musik der Salons in the Aurora Hall of Köpenick Palace. Together, the exhibition and concerts afford audiences a diverse and impressive insight into a fascinating Prussian personality at the turn of the nineteenth century.