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mrs_bachSebastian, there should have been someone
who noted my
mind—which, if I say so myself,
and I must, it seems,
was tuned to a fine pitch of excellence…

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—Regina Decormier-Shekerjian, from her poem Mrs. Bach

An Australian music professor is making headlines with a theory that some of Bach’s most treasured works were actually written by his wife.

A new documentary film, Written by Mrs. Bach, suggests that the composer’s second wife Anna Magdalena is the true author of his Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello and other works. Martin Jarvis, a conductor and professor of music at Charles Darwin University in Australia, first proposed his theory in 2006, but it was met with almost universal skepticism among musicians and academic musicologists, some of whom have suggested, waggishly, that she may also have written the works of William Shakespeare.

In the documentary, which will first premiere in London, Professor Jarvis joins forces with British composer Sally Beamish and a forensic handwriting expert to promote the argument, based on handwriting samples, that Anna Magdalena wrote the works herself.

Anna Magdalena was a trained musician and a professional singer. She also served as her husband’s copyist in her spare time while raising the children of her widowed husband’s earlier marriage as well as 13 children of her own. (A woman’s work is never done.)

Anna Magdalena Bach outlived her husband by ten years and died a pauper.


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Salmagundi, No. 88/89, 25th Anniversary Issue (Fall 1990-Winter 1991), pp. 82-88
Skidmore College