Did Bach's wife write some of his best-known works?

27 October 2014, 14:13

A new documentary claims that Anna Magdalena was the real composer of her husband Bach's best-known pieces.

It is generally accepted that Anna Magdalena assisted her husband in transcribing music scores. But Martin Jarvis, a professor of music at Charles Darwin University in Australia, is making the bomb-shell claim that J.S. Bach's second wife was far more than just a copyist.

After conducting forensic analysis of the ink and handwriting style in Bach manuscripts, Jarvis has concluded that three of Bach's most celebrated works were actually penned by Anna Magdalena, who was his second wife: the aria from the Goldberg Variations; the first Prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1) and possibly some of the Cello Suites.

Heidi Harralson, a forensic document examiner, backed Jarvis's view, saying she is sure "within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty" that Anna Magdalena was most likely the composer of these works.

The researchers believe that, due to the nature of the corrections and the fact that the writing is light, she was actually composing the works as she wrote them down. They say that someone copying music would write in a heavy, slow style.  

Bach Manuscript

Their findings are presented in a new documentary called Written By Mrs Bach, which was screened at BAFTA in London on Wednesday 29 October. British composer Sally Beamish, who presents the documentary, said: "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."
Do you believe Bach's wife composed some of the music attributed to him? Does it matter? Let us know what you think in the comments below.