Maria Antonia Walpurgis of Bavaria

Maria Antonia Walpurgis of Bavaria

Maria Antonia Walpurgis Symphorosa, princess of Bavaria (July 18, 1724-April 23, 1780), Electress of Saxony, was a German composer, singer, harpsichordist and patron, known particularly for her operas "Il trionfo della fedeltà" (Dresden, summer 1754) and "Talestri, regina delle amazzoni" (Nymphenburg Palace, February 6, 1760).

Life and Background

Maria Antonia Walpurgis was born in Munich to Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria and to Elector Karl Albert of Bavaria (later Emperor Karl VII). Throughout her life she received an outstanding education, particularly in the arts (including painting, writing poetry, as well as music). On June 20, 1747 she married Friedrich Christian, who would become the Elector of Saxony; that same year she became a member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia of Rome, a significant institution in operatic reform. With her marriage, she moved to Dresden and remained there through the Seven Years War and the death of her husband (1763), eventually dying there herself in 1780. She had seven children with Friedrich Christian.

Musical Training and Composing

While in Munich, Maria Antonia studied music with renowned opera composers Giovanni Battista Ferrandini and Giovanni Porta. After moving to Dresden she continued her studies with Nicola Porpora and Johann Adolph Hasse. Indeed, opera played a major part throughout Maria Antonia’s life. The court of Munich celebrated her birth with a performance of the opera "Amadis de Grecia" (Pietro Torri). Her betrothal to Friedrich Christian was likewise celebrated with opera performances, including Hasse’s "La Spartana generosa", sets by Bibiena, and Gluck’s opera "Le nozze d’Ercole e d’Ebe". Shortly after moving to Dresden, she penned the libretto for Hasse’s oratorio, "La conversione di Sant’Agostina" (1750), in addition to her composing work. Her own compositional style shows a strong affinity for that of Hasse, especially his conception of opera seria. She also performed actively as a singer and keyboard player in court performances, including leading roles in both of her operas. In addition to her two operas, a number of arias, a pastorale, intermezzos, meditations and motets are attributed to her.


The Amazon queen Talestris appears in numerous works from Greek mythology, and, like many such stories and mythic cycles, it became a frequent subject for works through the late Middle Ages and beyond. The French poet Gautier de Coste LaCalprenède revived the tale in the novel "Cassandre" (1644-1650), though the story was altered from the semi-historical account involving Alexander the Great to one involving Orontes, Prince of the Massagetes, as the male foil to Talestris.

Several operas took on the same subject matter over the next century, with Maria Antonia crafting her own libretto and music. The plot centers on Talestris’ relationship with a Scythian ruler (and man), Orontes, as in LaCalprenède’s version. In addition to the title character, two other prominent characters are women: Antiope, her advisor, who also falls in love with a Scythian man, Learchus; and Tomiris, the high priestess of Diana, who is—as revealed near the end of the opera—the mother of Orontes. Ultimately, the plot ends happily, with each couple united and war averted, as the Scythians and Amazons manage to peacefully co-exist. The depiction of the benevolent, thoughtful ruler Talestris coming-of-age as a political leader suggests the possibility that the opera is a semi-autobiographical rendering of Maria Antonia herself.

Critical Reception

Although published using the pseudonym "ETPA", standing for "Ermelinda Talea Pastorella Arcadia", Maria Antonia’s operas were successfully published by Breitkopf and enjoyed warm reviews both in their premiers at the court theater, which she sang in, and also throughout other European cities. Music critic Charles Burney praised her opera and her singing in his 1773 work, "The present state of music in Germany, the Netherlands and United Provinces". Also of note, the philosopher and music theorist, Antonio Eximeno y Pujades included an aria from Talestri in his 1774 treatise "Dell’ origine e delle regole della musica", putting her in the company of five other selected composers: Palestrina, Nanini, Clari, Pergolesi, and Corelli. Although her music is treated somewhat more broadly with less musical analysis, the entire treatise is used to model compositional techniques, implying a high regard for her work by Antonio Eximeno y Pujades, and presumably other contemporaries.


*"Il trionfo della fedeltà" (opera)
*"Talestri, Regina delle Amazzoni" (opera)


"Talestri, regina delle Amazzoni", dramma per musica. CD, Berlin: Folkert Uhde, 1999 and 2003.


* Allroggen, Gerhard: "Maria Antonia Walpurgis, Electress of Saxony". Grove Music Online. Ed. L. Macy. Accessed January 30, 2007, []
* Burney, Charles: "The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Provinces". London, 1773.
* [ López, Pilar Ramos: "Maria Antonia Walpurgis: Baroque Composer"] Accessed January 30, 2007
* Seiferling, Steffen: "Talestri, Regina delle Amazzoni" (Liner notes of CD, see discography).
* Walpurgis, Maria Antonia: "Talestri, regina delle Amazzoni: drama per music, de E.T.P.A." Leipzig: G. G. I. Breitkopf, 1765.
* Antonio Eximeno y Pujades: "Dell' origine e delle regole della musica, colla storia del suo progresso, decadenza, e rinnovazione". Rome, 1774.

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