Changing the course of music history 

CDU Professor of Music Martin Jarvis will send his research to the Bach-Archive and Museum after his visit to Leipzig in Germany

A visit to the Bach-Archive and Museum in Leipzig, Germany, has helped to heal old wounds and provided further reinforcement that the traditional view of Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, as simply a copyist of her husband’s music is flawed.

Research released by Charles Darwin University’s Professor of Music Martin Jarvis in 2006, shocked the classical music world by suggesting that some of Bach’s most significant works were most likely composed by Anna Magdalena and not by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Following his pioneering research, Professor Jarvis was recently invited by the Bach-Archive and Museum Director and joined by a film crew to tour Leipzig, the home of Bach and Anna Magdalena, as part of a documentary based on the untold story of Anna Magdalena.

“There are still so many things that don’t add up in this story,” Professor Jarvis said on his return to Darwin. “In the early 18th Century, when women had no real rights, Anna Magdalena was the only woman member of the court of Cöthen (where Anna Magdalena was first formally employed as a musician) and the second most highly paid musician. It is difficult to fathom why (she was paid so highly), unless she had unprecedented talent.” 

Professor Jarvis’ research also explains how the absence of women in the historical record supports his theory that some of the works widely attributed to classical music genius Johann Sebastian Bach, including the Cello Suites, were more likely to have been written by his wife.

“Until recent times it was believed that there were no women composers in the 18th Century,” he said. “Now, research of the historical records shows there were many. What is particularly mysterious about Bach is the fact that the only complete Cello Suites manuscript that exists is in Anna Magdalena’s handwriting.”

In1971, when Professor Jarvis first played the Cello Suits at the Royal Academy of Music in London, he recognised something was amiss when comparing the piece with other compositions written by Bach. It was not until decades later that his doubt led him to uncover the truth.

Over 10 years, Professor Jarvis combined the principles and techniques of scientific forensic document examination and traditional musical analysis techniques to test his theory, eventually publishing the book “Written by Mrs Bach”, published by HarperCollins ABC Books, in 2010.

“Forensically, handwriting is a biometric, just like a fingerprint of a person,” he said. “Anna Magdalena’s musical calligraphy is her written fingerprint, and along with her musical fingerprint (the sound), I believe she was the true composer of the Cello Suites.”

In the city of Leipzig where hotels are named after Bach, Bach chocolates are sold in stores, and where the Cello Suits are believed to have been composed, Professor Jarvis’ research when first released was met with some distain. Relationships have since been repaired and during his recent visit he was given a private tour of the Bach-Archive and Museum.

“The manager of the archives and museum, Dr Detloff Schwerdtfeger, told me that they are keen to use scientific tools to analyse Bach’s manuscripts and has requested I send my research findings to them,” Professor Jarvis said. “I hope that in the future I may be invited to present my research in a city where Anna Magdalena remains a central historical figure.”