Thursday, December 30, 2010

It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Lady Sings: Faustina Bordoni and the Battle of Kesselsdorf, 1745

 A Little Night Music
Some readers may have heard the title Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, by Mozart, which in English would be A Little Night Music. The film Amadeus is recommended not only for its brilliance but also in part for its relatively easy availability, compared with other music from the 18th Century, for setting a mood for the enthusiast.  There is more to the musical scene than just that, so we'll take an excursion to the Opera along with the king. He wanted to hear Faustina Bordoni.

                                                     *            *             *

Not only is the year 2010 grinding to its frozen end here, but the Second Silesian War ground to its end around this time of year in 1745, after the tremendous two-hour battle at Kesselsdorf. The peace of Dresden was actually already largely sorted out by the diplomats before the battle occurred. Once it did happen, the Saxon army was in bad shape and they and the Austrians of Prince Charles of Lorraine had to get out of town, and went east and south as the Prussians came in.

In the next few days the Prussian king showed up from Meissen, congratulated and thanked the Prince of Anhalt-Dessau on the victory, and there was some recognition for the troops. After that the king entered Dresden, and the military histories are content to leave it at that. Sometimes a little attention is paid by the biographers of Frederick to his reactions in the aftermath, as he had been impatient with the Old Dessauer beforehand, became grateful when he saw the scene, but some time later in his writings said something to the effect that if he was there, he would have attacked further to the right.

Some 'What If?' Possibilities for Gaming
That statement makes for some interesting possibilities for 'What If?' scenarios for the wargamer. The Kesselsdorf situation is that the Old Dessauer had been under pressure to hurry up for some time, and so here he marched up and attacked the enemy outside of Dresden, without waiting for the king to catch up with the reinforcements, who have just crossed the Elbe downstream, to the north and west at Meissen.

What if he had waited? What if the king had come up and taken command, with the larger force?

On the other hand, Graf Rutowski also fought the battle on his own, with the Saxons, and there were two forces of Austrians nearby who did not do as much as they could have done, for various reasons. Remember that his half-brother, Marshal Maurice de Saxe, had only several months earlier smashed up the British/Dutch/Imperial army at the famous battle of Fontenoy by means of an ingenious defensive position. Rutowski was trying to do the same thing here at Kesselsdorf when he set up his position.

He did think, too, that Prince Charles should bring up the 18,500 or so Austrians to extend the line, but in the event that did not happen. Well, what if it had? What if they also went to the right, or had set up to extend the position further left past Kesselsdorf?

General Gruenne's force had come from the west, often given as either 6,000 or 7,000 men, but the column had originally been of 10,000. They were on the field, but far to the right, and not especially engaged, when the fight took place on the left and the center. There was one Austrian Grenadier Battalion, Le Fee, who are said to have started the unfortunate counterattack movement, and to have lost about 150 men. They were detached and serving with the six Saxon Grenadier battalions on the far left at Kesselsdorf itself.

General Gruenne was sick in Dresden during the battle, and General Elverfeld was in command of the Austrians on the field in his place. Besides the Grenadier battalion on the far left, there are two Austrian heavy cavalry regiments deployed as a second line behind the right of the Saxon first infantry line.

Whether or not the deployment of the cavalry behind the infantry was such a good idea is something also debatable and as is well known the final argument of kings is best decided by letting the cannon speak. or in a wargame to let the dice decide. In reality the conditions of the ground and the weather, and also the condition of the horses and men in this freezing cold weather, merit special consideration in forming opinions on this question. It does also snow on the enemy.

The main body of Gruenne's column was deployed to cover the right wing, behind the Zschoener-Grund, as far as the Elbe several kilometers to the east of where the battle actually developed, and at the time no one knew what Frederick's later statements tell us about his own coup d'euil and impressions when he took a look at the field.

 In Dresden itself also several kilometers to the east is the army of Prince Charles of Lorraine, estimated as 18,000 or 19,000 Austrians. Our campaign sources may have mentioned that since earlier there were some 2,500 Saxons with Prince Charles, remaining from a larger force, when he had marched to Dresden.

The Dirk Brendler article posted December 15 for the anniversary of the battle has some insight towards the bottom about Prince Charles' reasons or excuses concerning why he did not intervene in force to help the Saxons, citing a letter he wrote. He says it would have been against all the rules of war, among other reasons.

                                                   *         *         *

I have some materials here also about Faustina Bordoni, indicating that on the night Frederick entered Dresden from Kesselsdorf he arranged to go to the Opera to hear a performance by Faustina of her husband's opera Arminio. In the link from Project Gutenberg the very beginning section about Faustina tells of the famous quarrel she had when Francesca Cuzzoni was jealous in London, back in 1726-27. Both had been introduced in London by Handel. Faustina may have been 26, or in the Wikipedia she is 3 years older, when all that drama happened. Further down at the end of section II is a paragraph telling about the performance at Kesselsdorf. This is in the first several pages of the book on the great singers by George T. Ferris.

Next the Wikipedia article about Faustina Bordoni to help clarify the story. It looks to me like that famous catfight was actually staged, but turned real.

And finally, a link to help explain the English phrase used in the title. The baseball player said it ain't over 'til it's over, according to this.


  1. I am always in contant alert when it comes to the HASSE BORDONI family as they are part of my mother's, Father's, ancestry history.

    I keep up with most of it with GOOGLE ALERTS which so far has been true to form, hence this posting.

    Thank You for the treasured info.

  2. You're welcome. For the record, I don't think she is at all fat, and the first book makes it clear Francesca Cuzzoni was uglier, although an image search, and the descriptions, tell me that is overblown and she was also a great singer and not as ugly as the first book would have us believe. But I do think she was jealous of Faustina, in 1726-7.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.