Did Bach’s Wife Compose Some of “His” Masterpieces? A New Documentary Says Yes

You may have heard of, or indeed read, Aus­tralian con­duc­tor Mar­tin Jarvis’ 2011 book Writ­ten By Mrs. Bach, which inves­ti­gates the ques­tion of whether Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach’s “cel­lo suites were com­posed by the Ger­man musi­cian’s sec­ond wife, Anna Mag­dale­na Bach.” Now, the book has become a doc­u­men­tary — adding the no doubt enrich­ing ele­ment of sound to the pro­ceed­ings — whose trail­er you can watch above. In it, accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post, “a pro­fes­sor of music, a com­pos­er and an Amer­i­can expert in doc­u­ment foren­sics advance the case.”

“Prof Jarvis said he aims to over­turn the ‘sex­ist’ con­ven­tion that recog­nised com­posers were always a ‘sole male cre­ator,’ to final­ly rein­state Mrs Bach into the his­to­ry books,” writes the Tele­graph’s Han­nah Fur­ness. “While Anna is known to have tran­scribed for Bach in his lat­er years, researchers found the hand­writ­ing did not have the ‘slow­ness or heav­i­ness’ usu­al­ly attrib­uted to some­one who is mere­ly copy­ing, but was like­ly to have flowed from her own mind,” bol­stered by “numer­ous cor­rec­tions to scores writ­ten in her hand, sig­nalling she is like­ly to have been com­pos­ing it as she went along.” A ter­ri­bly intrigu­ing ques­tion, but as with the ques­tion of Shake­speare­an author­ship, who held the pen now mat­ters less than what came out of it.

The works under scruti­ny here include “Bach’s unac­com­pa­nied cel­lo suites, of which there are six — the first of them pop­u­lar­ized as the theme of the film Mas­ter and Com­man­der: The Far Side of the World”; “the aria that begins and ends per­haps the most famous key­board work of all time, The Gold­berg Vari­a­tions”; and “a por­tion of the two-book mas­ter­work orig­i­nal­ly com­posed for the harp­si­chord known as the The Well-Tem­pered Clavier.” That infor­ma­tion comes from the Post, who also offer clips of these pieces. We’ve embed­ded them here for you to enjoy — and, no mat­ter who wrote them, you cer­tain­ly will. How often in his­to­ry, after all, do you encounter both man and wife who can com­pose for the ages?

via The Wash­ing­ton Post

Relat­ed Con­tent:

All of Bach for Free! New Site Will Put Per­for­mances of 1080 Bach Com­po­si­tions Online

A Big Bach Down­load: All of Bach’s Organ Works for Free

The Genius of J.S. Bach’s “Crab Canon” Visu­al­ized on a Möbius Strip

Video: Glenn Gould Plays the Gold­berg Vari­a­tions by J.S. Bach

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • JSintheStates says:

    Pure spec­u­la­tion. After tak­ing 2 or 3 semes­ters of Music The­o­ry, there is lit­tle doubt that Bach’s cat­a­logue was writ­ten by a sin­gle author. I would sug­gest these experts return to fun­da­men­tal music class­es.

  • Arlynda Boyer says:

    There is no “ques­tion” of Shake­speare­an author­ship. The plays are replete with War­wick­shire ref­er­ences, he col­lab­o­rat­ed with sev­er­al con­tem­po­raries, and he was deeply embed­ded in the the­atri­cal indus­try. “Who held the pen” was William Shake­speare.

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