New Historian

Bach's Wife Actually the Composer of His Greatest Masterpieces?

Johann Sebastian Bach

<![CDATA[Johann Sebastian Bach is thought by many to be the greatest composer of all time. His prolific output has been studied extensively for over two hundred years, especially since the 'Great Bach Revival' of the nineteenth century. Now, 260 years after his death, the true origins of his greatest works are coming under intense scrutiny. According to Martin Jarvis, professor of music at Charles Darwin University in Australia, Bach's second wife Anna Magdalena was the true composer of some of his major pieces, such as the famous cello suites. Jarvis' findings are presented in a documentary entitled "Written By Mrs. Bach", which is to be screened at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London this week. The works that are scrutinised in the controversial documentary are Bach's six unaccompanied cello suites, the Aria in "The Goldberg Variations", and a portion of "The Well-Tempered Clavier". All the pieces are important classics and performed extensively around the world. The work done on the new documentary was led by Jarvis, in association with Sally Beamish, a British Composer, and Arizona-based expert in document forensics, Heidi Harralson. Jarvis' investigation began when he was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London, when he himself was first playing the cello suites. In his mind, these compositions were very different to the other pieces Bach wrote, which aroused his suspicions. He has since embarked on a 34 year journey to find out the true composer of the cello suites. It must be noted that Jarvis' claims haven't been proven, but he argues that the incredible evidence can't be ignored. The basis of his argument is the fact that these pieces deviate from Bach's other works in both structure and technique. Also, the manuscripts are written in the hand of Bach's wife, with the front page of one suite saying "written by Mrs. Bach", in French. Jarvis points out that there is in reality little proof that Bach actually wrote the pieces that are attributed to him. It has always just been assumed that he wrote everything credited to his name. Over the years Jarvis' claims have been criticised and shot down by musicians and musical historians from around the world. One such musician is Steven Isserlis, who recently wrote a Guardian article comparing the Bach theory with those questioning the authorship of Shakespeare's plays or George Eliot's novels. Isserlis wrote that the manuscript Jarvis has claimed is written in Anna Magdalena's hand was actually a copy, as Bach's originals have all been either destroyed or lost. One can easily imagine how easy it would have been for Bach to lose the originals of his work. When he wrote the cello suites he was employed as the court musician and "Kapellmeister", a musical director responsible for creating music for German princes, churches and towns. This job required him to write countless manuscripts on a weekly or sometimes daily basis. Bach's catalogue is comprised of 1,100 confirmed works, with many more speculated to be lost. For a man with such a frantic lifestyle, it is more than likely that he would have had duplicates made of his compositions. Jarvis does have a response to the idea the manuscripts are just copies made by Magdalena however. He suggested that the handwriting didn't have the "slowness or heaviness" of someone merely copying. Either way, Jarvis' documentary looks likely to question many of the long held assumptions of the musical world.]]>

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