Friday, April 21, 2006

It's Bach Jim, But Not As We Know It

The Bach family was famous for producing musicians, well before the most famous of them came along. EoR is referring to the composer of the six suites for unaccompanied cello by, of course, Anna Magdalena Bach. Perhaps you mistakenly thought they were by Johann Sebastian, but not according to Martin Jarvis.
A Darwin music expert has cast doubt on whether Johann Sebastian Bach wrote some of his most famous work. The conductor of Darwin's Symphony Orchestra, Martin Jarvis, has been researching Bach's cello suites and believes they were actually composed by the German musician's second wife, Anna Magdalena. She was a student of Bach's in 1714 and married him in 1721. They had 13 children. Mr Jarvis has told ABC Radio if Magdalena did compose some of the music she would never have been credited for the work.

The full interview (just over three minutes) can be listened to online, and provides a few more details, which make the startling headline "Bach's wife wrote works, expert says" not quite as shocking as it seems. Mr Jarvis states
It doesn't sound musically mature, it sounds like an exercise.

Much of Bach's works were, indeed, exercises (the most famous being The Well-Tempered Clavier) and almost everything Bach wrote were commissions produced to order. Whether the cello suites were exercises or not does not necessarily correlate to the quality of the music. It is true, however, that the reason the cello suites were written is unknown, and that they do not scale the heights of the solo violin sonatas (though they are not easy pieces).

Mr Jarvis has used handwriting analysis of the original manuscripts and detected Anna Magdalen'a handwriting in
places where it shouldn't have been.

So whether this all means Anna Magdalena composed some, or all, of the music (or whether she just helped out with the manuscripts) is still an open question in EoR's mind. Mr Jarvis will be presenting his research this weekend at a forum in Darwin.

If, however, Anna Magdalena was the uncredited composer, EoR stands in admiration of her. Running the Bach household, taking time to have thirteen children, and composing great music!

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