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Written by Mrs Bach: a review

For those of you who are unaware, in 2011 Martin Jarvis, associate professor of music at Charles Darwin university and artistic director of the Darwin symphony orchestra, published the book Written by Mrs Bach. In it he explains his reasons for believing that not only was J. S. Bach not the composer of all of the music attributed to him, but that his second wife, Anna Magdalena, was a composer in her own right and was likely the composer of some of the preludes in the WTC and some of the cello suites attributed to J. S. Bach.

I have read the book, and watched the more recently made documentary Written by Mrs Bach: Broken Silence, and I must say, he puts forward a very compelling case.

Based upon forensic analysis of the handwriting in various source manuscripts as well as correspondence between Mrs Bach and others, it does seem highly likely that not only did Anna Magdalena Bach have composition lessons from her husband, well if he was your husband, you would wouldn't you, and that she used her training in composition to write music.

Now, I realise that some people may have a knee jerk reaction against this information, Bach being almost God like in some circles, but it does not detract from the great man's reputation. In fact, in my opinion, it only heightens it.

It seems to me, far more likely that J S Bach taught his family members and students to compose at his house, after all, his was a more pragmatic approach to teaching, and that some of the music found at his home after his death were composed by said family members or students.

After a careful study of many of the pieces for solo instruments, I would also conclude that there is a definite variation in style and ability level in some of the compositions that Mr Jarvis mentions in his book. Whether written for students, or by students, is another matter, but well worth a read.

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