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On Anna Magdalena and Johann Sebastian,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

What do you think about THIS?

Fellow cello, London

from The Telegraph, London :

'A study ... claims that Anna Magdalena Bach, traditionally believed to be Bach's musical copyist, actually wrote some of his best-loved works, including his Six Cello Suites ... Martin Jarvis used police forensic science techniques to scrutinise manuscripts he believed to be written by Anna Magdalena.

'Steven Isserlis ... said "... I don't believe this to be a serious theory."'

Dear Fellow cello,

Couldn't agree more with Steven Isserlis here. I think the onus to provide the burden of proof lies with Professor Jarvis. There is no doubt that Anna Magdalena copied Bach's works for him: it is extremely unlikely that his copyist did any more than that.

Also, while not impossible, it is unbelievably unlikely that a married couple could both be equally and extraordinarily talented: one to have written the St Matthew Passion and the other the cello suites!!!!! Were the suites not particularly brilliant (compositionally) there could be a sliver of a case, but they are: they are verdant, spilling over with pure Bachiness: and strikingly similar to the violin Partitas (is Prof Jarvis suggesting that Anna Magdalena wrote them, as well???!!!) Where Anna M might have learned the skill of composing might be obvious (some of Bach's children certainly did) but none of them -- genetically related as they were -- ever approached Bach in either style or substance. Also, why would a loving husband (remember the 21 children!!!!) such as Bach want to pretend ownership of her work? Don't forget, too, that Bach was a Christian. He never completed a work, apparently, without writing the equivalent of 'To the glory of God.' Would such a person rob his beloved wife of the honour that (would have been) her due?

In short, of all the theories I have ever heard, this is one of the nuttiest. Next, some bright spark will proclaim that Byron's tailor composed several of his better-known poems, due to his DNA being on the manuscript -- or that Jane Austen's sister Cassandra (whose DNA is probably all over her novels) was merely too shy to come forward as the author of Persuasion, as the heroine of that novel is by far the most mature of all her heroines ...

Yours in fevered expectation,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice

Your reply to my frustrated and talented email was wonderful. I had forgotten about it and finding your answer tonight was uplifting and I found it very heart warming and kindly helpful. Thanks for putting the time in to give a thought out and practical set of answers. Much (hugely) appreciated.


Dear Sally,

Thanks for this, which I found heart-warming and uplifting. However, it would have cheered me up even more had you bothered checking for an answer in the first place!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yours, about to hand over the writing of this column to my dachshund,

Copyright © 28 April 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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