Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Polka for a Princess

I found a rather interesting article about the creation of Johann Strauss's "Olga-Polka". Strauss is one of my favorite composers and Olga-Polka one of my favorite music. I was amazed to find out that it was actually composed by Strauss as a dedication to Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna of Russia, sister-in-law to Tsar Alexander II.

This is what the article says about the music:

The Olga-Polka was created because of a Russian imperial wedding which took place in St. Petersburg on August 20, 1857. On that day, the music-loving Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaievich, youngest brother of Tsar Alexander II, married Princess Cecilie of Baden. At that time, Johann Strauss was giving concerts in Pavlovsk. He used the opportunity occasioned by the event to enhance his already enviable popularity with the Russian imperial family and composed the Cecilien-Polka in honour of the lovely young bride. Indeed, it is clear from a letter which Johann wrote in late July 1857 to Carl Haslinger, his publisher in Vienna, that the new polka had been prepared well in advance of the wedding (the fair copy of the full orchestral score made for the publisher's engraver is dated 9 August) and was enjoying success even before the royal couple's official engagement on August 16, 1857. The performance of the Cecilian-Polka in Pavlovsk caused a sensation in St. Peterburg, and was praised for its "truly genial Viennese sounds full of verve and melody".

Since tradition demanded that the German princess Cecilie adopt a Russian name - Olga Feodorovna - before her marriage, so Johann's Cecilien-Polka also underwent a change of identity. On December 8, 1857 Carl Haslinger announced the publication of Strauss's Olga-Polka, on the title page of which is the inscription: "Dedicated to her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Olga, née Princess of Baden". It was under this title, too, that Johann himself first conducted the work in Vienna at a concert in the Volksgarten on November 1, 1857, shortly after his return from Russia. Reporting on this event, the Wiener Allgemeine Theaterzeitung observed: "The Olga-Polka is a most delightful, fragrant musical bouquet, full of fine, gracious rhythms".

Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna of Russia
nee Princess Cecilie of Baden

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Fascinating Marie

Crown Princess Marie of Romania

"Princess Marie was already famous for her beauty: she had wonderful eyes of such a rare shade of grayish blue that it was impossible to forget them. Her figure was tall and slender as a young poplar, and she bewitched me so completely that I followed her about like a shadow. I spent sleepless nights conjuring up her lovely face. Once, she kissed me; I was so happy that I refused to let my face be washed that night. She was much amused to hear about this act of boyish infatuation, and many years later when I met her again at a dinner given in London at the Austrian Embassy, she reminded me of the incident." 
--Prince Felix Yusupov 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Princess Zinaida Yussupova

Princess Zinaida Yusupova was the greatest Russian heiress of her day. She was famed not only for her dazzling beauty and wealth, but also for her intellect and the lavishness of her hospitality.

Her family, the Yusupovs, were immensely wealthy. They owned many properties throughout Russia, among these were the Arkangelskoie Estate (with its paper and textile factories), and sixteen sumptuous palaces in St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Crimea, France, Germany, and Britain. They also possessed a huge and valuable collection of paintings, sculptures, and jewelries.

Being the only the surviving child of Prince Nicholas Borisovich Yusupov and Countess Tatiana Ribeaupierre, Zinaida solely inherited the vast properties of the Yusupovs. As a young woman, she had numerous suitors, among them the Crown Prince of Bulgaria, but she married Count Felix Sumarokov-Eston, an officer of the Russian Imperial Guard. They had two sons, Nicholas and Felix, the latter would eventually gain fame as the man who murdered Rasputin.

Below is an excerpt from Prince Felix Yusupov's memoirs about his mother.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Crowned Ophelia'

The Grand Duchess Elizabeth, c1890
"She is fair, winning, gifted, the most brilliant and accomplished of all the Queen's grandchildren, with beauty of so fragile and delicate a type that they call her a 'crowned Ophelia'."

While reading "Royal Girls and Royal Courts" by M.E.W Sherwood, I came across this interesting passage about the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna ('Ella'). It intrigued me that Ella was called  a "crowned Ophelia". I haven't read anywhere before that she was called like that. Perhaps there is something about the character Ophelia (I assume from Shakespeare's 'Hamlet') which made the comparison with Ella. I'm not sure.

"Ophelia" by Arthur Hughes, 1865

Friday, October 14, 2011

Royal Portrait: The Princess Elizabeth

Princess Elizabeth by Cecil Beaton, 1945
(From V&A Museum)

This must be my favorite portrait of Her Majesty the Queen. It was taken in 1945, when she was still Princess Elizabeth. She is truly the quintessential princess. I just love the whole effect of this photo: her dress, the flowers, her pose... There is something romantic, magical, and serene about it. Cecil Beaton has perfectly captured the youthful beauty and charm of the Princess, as well as her sweet smile.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The First American Princess of Monaco: Alice Heine

Alice Heine,
Princess of Monaco
Before the American actress Grace Kelly became Princess of Monaco by her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, another American woman had become the wife a Prince of Monaco more than half a century earlier. Marie Alice Heine was the first American woman ever to marry a Prince of Monaco, and the first American woman ever to wed a reigning sovereign.

Alice Heine was born on February 10, 1858 in New Orleans. Her father, Michael Heine was a scion of the prominent European banking family Heine-Freres, and a cousin of the German poet Heinrich Heine. He came to New Orleans from France to become a real-estate developer and to organize cotton financing. Alice's mother was Amelie Miltenberger, an architect's daughter, and of a French ancestry.

Because of the American Civil War, the Heines were forced to go back to France. It was also in France that Michael Heine introduced his daughter to Parisian society. Alice's beauty and her family's wealth made her an attractive bride, and soon enough the most eligible bachelors were begging for her hand in marriage.

At the age of 17, Alice married Armand, 7th Duke of Richelieu, a wealthy man but many years older than her. They went on to have a son, the future 8th Duke of Richelieu. Five years after their marriage, the Duke died, and 22 year-old Alice was left a widow. Her husband left her a substantial fortune, and the young and wealthy widow became one of the most courted widows in the cosmopolitan world. She embarked on her fabulous career as an international hostess, and became famous in London and Paris.

Few years later, Alice met Prince Albert of Monaco at the island of Madeira. The prince was immediately attracted to the beautiful blonde widow and wished to marry her. However, Prince Albert's father was against the match and the couple had to wait years before they could marry. When the reigning prince died and Albert became the new sovereign of Monaco, he immediately married Alice. They got married on October 30, 1889. Alice arrived in Monte Carlo and was greeted with much fanfare. The Bishop of Monaco described her as "the embodiment of virtue, chastity, and generosity". She brought with her six million dollars as dowry, which was a fortune at that time, and possessed some of the most valuable jewels in existence.

Alice's marriage to Prince Albert proved an equal blessing to him and his tiny principality. Alice possessed a strong business acumen, well in advance for her youth. Having helped put her husband's principality on a sound financial footing, she would devote her energies to making Monaco one of Europe's great cultural centers, with an opera, theater, and a ballet under the direction of the famed Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev. Prince Albert was a keen oceanographer, and ordered the construction of the research ship Princess Alice in honor of his wife.

Albert supported his wife's efforts in transforming Monaco into a major cultural center, but Alice was unsympathetic to her husband's love for the sea. Despite the initial success of the marriage, the couple eventually found it hard to reconcile their differences, and they separated in 1902. They did not divorce. Alice's father tried to negotiate a return of some part of her large dowry, but the Grimaldi family refused. After her separation from the prince, Alice settled in London, and became the hostess to one of its most glittering salons. She became a close friend of Queen Alexandra, and the Queen regularly sent her roses from Sandringham to be added to her garden. She entertained considerably, and her parties were frequented by celebrated artists, writers, and political leaders. She also became patron to many young, promising artists and a supporter of humanitarian causes popular in the early 20th century. Upon the Prince's death 20 years later, Alice became the Dowager Princess of Monaco. She did not remarry.

Princess Alice died in Paris at the age of 68.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Imperial Cyphers of the Russian Empresses

Diamond imperial cyphers of the Empress Maria Feodorovna, consort of Paul I (left),
the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, consort of Alexander I, in combination with the monogram of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (right), and the Empress Maria Feodorovna, consort of Alexander III (center)

Cypher of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, consort of Nicholas I

(Left) Monogram of the Empress Maria Feodorovna, consort of Paul I
(Right) Dual cypher of the Dowager Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, consort of Nicholas I 
and the Empress Maria Alexandrovna, consort of Alexander II

Dual cypher of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, consort of Alexander III, 
and the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, consort of Nicholas II

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