Anna Magdalena Bach

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The Bachs at leisure? The title page to Singende Müse an der Pleisse, a collection of strophic songs published in Leipzig in 1736, by Johann Sigismund Scholze.[1]

Anna Magdalena Bach (née Wilcke or Wilcken) (22 September 1701 – 22 February 1760) was an accomplished singer and the second wife of Johann Sebastian Bach.


Anna Magdalena Wilcke was born at Zeitz, in the Electorate of Saxony, to a musical family. Her father, Johann Caspar Wilcke, was a trumpet player, who had a career at the courts of Zeitz and Weißenfels. Her mother, Margaretha Elisabeth Liebe, was the daughter of an organist. Little is known about her early musical education. Johann Sebastian Bach had been working as Kapellmeister or director of music at the court of Köthen since December 1717. By 1721 Anna Magdalena was employed as a singer (soprano) also at Köthen. It is certainly possible that Johann Sebastian Bach first heard her sing at Weißenfels during this time.

The Bach House in Köthen was the couple's first home.

Bach married Anna on December 3, 1721, 17 months after the death of his first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. In 1723, Bach was appointed Cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig.

Anna Magdalena continued to sing professionally after her marriage. For example, she returned to Köthen in 1729 to sing at Prince Leopold's funeral.[2] The Bachs' shared interest in music contributed to their happy marriage. She regularly worked as a copyist, transcribing her husband's music.[3] He wrote a number of compositions dedicated to her, most notably the two Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach. During the Bach family's time in Leipzig, Anna Magdalena organized regular musical evenings featuring the whole family playing and singing together with visiting friends. The Bach house became a musical centre in Leipzig.

Apart from music, her interests included gardening.[4]

Together they raised the children from his first marriage and had 13 children of their own from 1723 to 1742, seven of whom died at a young age:

  • Christiana Sophia Henrietta (1723–1726)
  • Gottfried Heinrich (1724–1763)
  • Christian Gottlieb (1725–1728)
  • Elisabeth Juliana Friederica, called "Liesgen" (1726–1781), married to Bach's pupil, Johann Christoph Altnickol
  • Ernestus Andreas (1727–1727)
  • Regina Johanna (1728–1733)
  • Christiana Benedicta (1729–1730)
  • Christiana Dorothea (1731–1732)
  • Johann Christoph Friedrich, the 'Bückeburg' Bach (1732–1795)
  • Johann August Abraham (1733–1733)
  • Johann Christian, the 'London' Bach (1735–1782)
  • Johanna Carolina (1737–1781)
  • Regina Susanna (1742–1809)

After Bach's death in 1750, his sons came into conflict and moved on in separate directions, leaving Anna Magdalena alone with her two youngest daughters and her stepdaughter from Bach's first marriage. While they remained loyal to her, nobody else in the family helped her financially.[5] Anna Magdalena became increasingly dependent upon charity and handouts from the city council; when she died on February 27, 1760, she was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave at Leipzig's Johanniskirche (de) (St. John's Church). The church was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II.

A possible composer[edit]

The first page of the Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 in Anna Magdalena Bach's handwriting[6]

Recently, it has been suggested that Anna Magdalena Bach composed several musical pieces bearing her husband's name: Professor Martin Jarvis of the School of Music at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia, claims that she composed the famed six cello suites (BWV 1007–1012) and was involved with the composition of the aria from the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) and the opening prelude of The Well-Tempered Clavier.[7]

These claims have been dismissed by Christoph Wolff, who said,

I am sick and tired of this stupid thesis. When I served as director of the Leipzig Bach Archive from 2001 to 2013, I and my colleagues there extensively refuted the basic premises of the thesis, on grounds of documents, manuscript sources, and musical grounds. There is not a shred of evidence, but Jarvis doesn’t give up despite the fact that several years ago, at a Bach conference in Oxford, a room full of serious Bach scholars gave him an embarrassing showdown.[8]

Writing in the Guardian, cellist Steven Isserlis said, "I’m afraid that his theory is pure rubbish," and continued, "How can anybody take this shoddy material seriously?" [9]

Biographical sources[edit]

A fictitious autobiography The Little Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach was written in 1925 by the English author Esther Meynell.[10] This sentimental narration of the family life of Bach is not based on any sources and is probably far from the personality of Anna Magdalena Bach.

A compilation of material about Anna Magdalena Bach has been published by Maria Hübner in 2005, Anna Magdalena Bach. Ein Leben in Dokumenten und Bildern, completed by a biographical Essay of Hans-Joachim Schulze.[11]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Art historian and Bach portrait expert Teri Noel Towe believes there is a chance that the two people shown may be Bach and his wife Anna Magdalena. The Face of Bach by Teri Noel Towe - accessed December 2014 via Bach Cantatas Website (also Archived July 16, 2011 at the Wayback Machine)
  2. ^ The lost cantata Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt, BWV 244a was performed. For Anna Magdalena's participation - Catherine Bott, Andrew Parrott (October 2011) Reconstructions (starts about minute 12), The Early Music Show, BBC Radio 3
  3. ^ Yo Tomita, 'Anna Magdalena as Bach's copyist' Understanding Bach, 2 (2007), pp. 59-76
  4. ^ Werner Neumann, Hans Joachim Schultze: Bach-Dokumente Band II – Fremdschriftliche und gedruckte Dokumente 1685–1750. Bärenreiter, Kassel 1969, p. 423.
  5. ^ Koch-Kanz, Swantje & Luise F. Pusch (1988) "Die Töchter von Johann Sebastian Bach", in: Pusch, Luise F. Hg. 1988. Töchter berühmter Männer: Neun biographische Portraits. Frankfurt/M. Insel TB 979. S. 117-154. ISBN 3-458-32679-0
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bach works were written by his second wife, claims academic. The Telegraph, 22 April 2006
  8. ^ [1] Bogus Bach Theory Gets Media Singing
  9. ^ [2] 'Suite scandal: why Bach's wife cannot take credit for his cello masterwork'
  10. ^ Meynell, Esther (1925) The Little Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, reprinted 2007 by Library Reprints ISBN 1-4227-4202-4
  11. ^ Maria Hübner (ed.) (2004). Anna Magdalena Bach - Ein Leben in Dokumenten und Bildern. Including a biographical essay by Hans-Joachim Schulze. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig, 2004. ISBN 3-374-02208-1

External links[edit]