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  8. Festive music

Festive music

The most glorious age of Saxon court and artistic culture falls in the first half of the 18th century – the end of Augustus II the Strong’s (Augustus II of Poland) reign and the first two decades of the reign of his son, Frederick Augustus II (1696–1763). The Kapellmeister and musicians of the Saxon Electoral and Polish Royal Orchestra played a major role in cultivating this courtly splendour. They organised the large court concerts and chamber music, served as the basis for operas, and figured prominently in church music.

Der Mohrenn Auffzug

Tabulatur Buch auff dem Instrument für Christianus Hertzogk zu Sachsen: 3. Der Mohrenn Auffzug.
Copy, paper. – Dresden, 16th century.
Shelf mark: Mscr.Dresd.J.307

© SLUB / Deutsche Fotothek

Being able to make and compose one’s own music played an important role for the House of Wettin. As passionate music lovers, they performed most of their work (intended for personal use) at family celebrations with musicians from the court band, who were also responsible for providing their musical training. Among those objects preserved was a notebook owned by Elector Christian II, attesting to the fact that the young prince played the lute. A similar book, owned by his brother John George I, was lost in the purges during World War II.

Presto from Sonata 38 in C for the lute

Silvius Leopold Weiss: Presto from Sonata 38 in C for the lute.
Original music manuscript. – 1730 to 1765.
Shelf mark: Mus.2841-V-1,2


Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687–1750), who was one of Europe’s most famous lute virtuosos in the first half of the 18th century, was appointed chamber musician for the Prince Elector of Saxony and King of Poland on 23 August 1718. Contemporaries praised his improvisation skills and the “unheard-of delicacy and cantable grace” of his recitals. Weiss was also popular as a composer for his instrument, his legacy consisting of over 600 solo pieces, including preludes, fugues, suites and fantasies, as well as numerous lute compositions for various ensembles.

Sonata à Solo

Antonio Vivaldi: Sonata à Solo fatto p[er] Ma[estr]o: Pisendel Del Viualdi.
Score, autograph. – 1716/1717.
Shelf mark: Mus.2389-R-10,2


Johann Georg Pisendel (1687/88–1755), the first violinist in the Dresdner Hofkapelle orchestra from 1711 onwards, travelled to Italy in 1716/17 as part of Prince-Elector Frederick Augustus’ entourage. In Venice, he took violin lessons with Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), who dedicated several compositions to him, including the ten Suonate a Solo. Upon returning to Germany, Pisendel performed a number of works by the Venetian master in Dresden, where he established the largest Vivaldi collection outside Italy.

La Cleonice

Giovanni Alberto Ristori: La Cleonice.
Score, autograph. – 1718.
Shelf mark: Mus.2455-F-10


Ristori (1692–1753) arrived at the Dresden court in 1715 with the “Comici italiani”, a society of actors and singers. He was employed here as “Compositeur de la musique italienne” in 1717, and soon after became the head of the Polish Royal Orchestra. His opera La Cleonice premiered on 15 August 1718 in the auditorium of Moritzburg Castle during a festive hunt to which Augustus the Strong had invited prominent princes. It was performed after the big water hunt during the festive garden banquet.


Antonio Lotti: Ascanio Overo Gli odi Delusi dal Sangue.
Score, copy. – Dresden, March 1718 to September 1719.
Shelf mark: Mus.2159-F-5


The heyday of Italian opera in Dresden has close links with the later Elector Frederick Augustus II. During his stay in Venice in 1716/17, the elector called Antonio Lotti (1667–1740) to the Saxon court and instructed him to compose stage pieces. The opera Ascanio premiered in the “Redoutensaal” of Dresden’s Royal Palace during Carnival on 10 March 1718. The copy displayed here contains three intermezzi by Francesco Gasparini and Giovanni Bononcini – curious scenes which were sung between the opera’s acts, but which had no connection to it.