Bach Illustration

Did Bach’s wife compose the cello suites?

Since 2006, Martin Jarvis, a musicologist from Charles Darwin University in Australia, has claimed that Johann Sebastian Bach is not the author of his most important works but Anna Magdalena, his second wife. The academic returns to the charge with new evidence based on the research of an American graphologist, which is the subject of a documentary film, Written by Mrs. Bach.


Anna Magdalena Bach
Bach and Anna Magdalena

From the scores transcribed by the hand of Anna Magdalena, Heidi Harralson, the graphologist in question, declares to be convinced that Bach is not the composer of specific pieces. His wife’s handwriting would not have the “slowness or heaviness” usually noticed in someone who copies but rather the mark of an idea that stems from her own mind. Moreover, the numerous corrections by Anna Magdalena present on the scores would prove that she would have indicated them as she composed.
Jarvis’ documentary goes even further by attributing some of the major pieces of Bach’s work to his wife – the Cello Suites, the Aria in the Goldberg Variations, and an essential part of the first book of the Well-tempered Clavier.

British composer Sally Beamish, who took part in the documentary, believes that this discovery raises many questions about female composers and could have huge consequences for the confidence of young women who want to write music.

Anna Magdalena and Bach were married in 1721 when she was 20, and he was 36. She was known to be an accomplished singer, and she transcribed many of her husband’s scores towards the end of his life.