Did Bach’s wife write his finest works?
by Hannah Furness
Martin Jarvis, professor of music at Charles Darwin University in Australia, claims some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s best-loved works were actually written by his wife.
Forensic analysis of some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s best-loved works proves they were actually written by his wife, an academic has claimed.
Martin Jarvis, professor of music at Charles Darwin University in Australia, argues that Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife, was actually the composer of some of his major works, including the Cello Suites.
The academic, who first proposed his theory to his sceptical peers in 2006, has spent years compiling evidence, with a comprehensive study of handwriting and manuscripts.
A new documentary will now detail the analysis of ink and writing style to “prove” Mrs Bach had far more input than previously thought.
Presented by Sally Beamish, a British composer, and due to be screened at Bafta next week, the film will include evidence from an American forensic scientist who analysed the composer’s signature and his famous scores.
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.
Heidi Harralson, a forensic document examiner, said she was convinced the composer was more likely to be Anna than Bach himself, saying she was as sure as possible “within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty”.
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.
They also pointed to numerous corrections to scores written in her hand, signalling she is likely to have been composing it as she went along.
Beamish said the theory raised important questions about female composers, and had huge implications that could “transform” the confidence of young women hoping to make it today.
“What I found fascinating is the questions it raises about the assumptions we make: that music is always written by one person and all the great masters were male by definition,” she said.
She pointed out that female musicians at the time were known to put their works out using a male relative’s name.
Anna Magdalena Bach, born in 1701, was Bach’s second wife, an accomplished singer and known copyist. The pair married in 1721.
According to Prof Jarvis, they could actually have met as early as 1713, after he found handwriting matching hers on documents from the period.
Many of her papers are said to have been destroyed after her death, leaving little trace of her legacy.
Prof Jarvis, from Wales, said people felt threatened and embarrassed by his revelation, as well as being “frightened of ridicule” if they publicly back him.
The documentary, entitled Written by Mrs Bach, argues that Anna wrote the Cello Suites, the aria from the Goldberg Variations, and even the first prelude of the Well-tempered Clavier: Book I.
Ms Harralson said: “I think she is the author. The evidence is more in her favour than it is in Bach’s.”
JS Bach and his wife, Anna Magdalena (Photo Alamy)