Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bach's wife 'may have been composer'

I laughed out loud when I read the heading above but, on reflection, I think that the guy may have a point. Although I am an utter Bach fanatic, I have always found the cello suites -- good as they are -- less inspiring than Bach's other works. In fact, I don't think I have ever played them all right through. There are definite flashes of brilliance in them but they don't have the same constant quality as Bach's other works -- to my mind anyway. And I DO like bass instruments. I love the bassoon, for instance

The wife of one of history's greatest composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, may have written some of the works attributed to her husband, an Australian researcher says.

Associate Professor Martin Jarvis of Charles Darwin University is set to present the provocative theory to the international forensic science community at the International Symposium on the Forensic Sciences in Melbourne next week.

Professor Jarvis says Anna Magdalena is normally portrayed as a simple woman who was only good for having babies and accurately copying Bach's manuscripts.

"The scientific evidence says the way we understand the relationship between Johann Sebastian Bach and Anna Magdelena is not correct," he said.

"My conclusions may not be wholly accurate, but the way in which tradition has put Anna Magdalena into this pathetic role ... is rubbish."

Professor Jarvis, who is artistic director of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra, says ever since his student days at the Royal Academy of Music in London in the 1970s, he has thought that the Bach Cello suites did not sound like Bach.

"Certainly in the first suite, the movements are short and very simple, in comparison with the first movement of the violin works. And I couldn't understand why," he said.

Professor Jarvis's interest was further piqued by the discovery of a note written on the cover of the cello suites manuscript by its owner.

The note said "Ecrite par Madame Bachen Son Epouse", which is French for "Written by Mrs Bach his Wife" but had always been interpreted as "copied" by Anna Magdalena, Professor Jarvis said.

Professor Jarvic has also studied manuscripts from the pair and deconstructed cello suites which have helped him draw his conclusions.

Professor Jarvis' hypothesis is controversial in the music world and he says he has received a fair amount of hate mail from those who reject his ideas.

But he says a number of scholars support his view, including a musicologist from Sweden who has used statistics to conclude the cello suites did not fit into Bach's other works.

Dr Bryan Found of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society has also been assisting Professor Jarvis with his analysis.

"On the surface of what I've seen it seems valid conclusions are being drawn," he said.

Dr Found says Professor Jarvis has uniquely linked forensics with musicology in his analysis and will have to get feedback and peer review by experts in both fields.

This is the first time Professor Jarvis is presenting his work to the forensic science community.

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