Woman of the week - Fanny Elssler

Name: Franziska, Fanny, Elssler (also spelled Elßler)
Born: 23 June 1810, Gumendorf outside Vienna, Austria
Died: 27 November 1884, Vienna, Austria
Married to: None.
Children: Franz (died in 1873)
Therese (1833-1870)
Occupation: Dancer

Fanny Elssler was one of the most famous ballerinas of the 19th century. She was the daughter of Johann Florian Elssler, who worked as copyist for the Kapellmeister Joseph Haydn. He was to eventually become a valet to the famous composer (and was present at his death). Fanny was trained in ballet from an early age and made her début before the age of seven. She was often performing with her two years older sister Therese (1808-1878). The older sister was to be overshadowed by the success of Fanny, but they continued to perform together – Therese finally leaving the stage when she had gathered quite a fortune and could look forward to a comfortable life, though in the end she chose to marry, at the age of 42 she became the wife of Adalbert Prinz von Preussen, the youngest brother of king Friedrich Wilhelm III.

The beginning of the great success for Fanny Elssler came at her performance in Berlin 1830 – with her sister. This was to mark the beginning of international travels and performances in Europe and the US. One of her most famous performances was doing the La Cachucha in the role of Florinda in the ballet Le diable boiteu, written by Jean Coralli and Casimir Gide. This was even to be captured on prints of the time, and even in porcelain. She was to stay on stage and perform until she retired, as her sister, having earned a fortune which could make it possible for her to have a comfortable life henceforth. She lived outside of Hamburg. But she died in Vienna, and was buried there at the Hietzing cemetery.

Her personal life was not quite as straightforward as her career. In 1827 she met Leopold of Naples-Sicily, prince of Salerno, and son of Ferdinand IV, king of Naples. With Leopold she had the son Franz, who was to commit suicide in 1873. In 1829 she met Friedrich von Gentz (1764-1832), a writer and politician who had to withdraw from public affairs in 1830 and lived the reminder of his life on his castle at Weinhaus, and Fanny stayed with him there – when she was not out performing. After the death of Gentz she was to get reacquainted with an old friend from her youth, Anton Stuhlmüller, with whom she in 1833 had the daughter Therese. Therese was later to marry into the prestigious noble family of Webenau, but she died in 1870.

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