Top cellist refutes evidence, describing Australian academic’s material as “shoddy”.

Leading British cellist Steven Isserlis has taken a pugnacious pop at the resurfacing claims that Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena wrote her husband’s famous Cello Suites. In a cogent article in The Guardian he labels Charles Darwin University professor Martin Jarvis’s research presented in a new documentary as “shoddy” and those who believe it as “credulous”.

“Anna Magdalena Bach did not write the Bach suites, any more than Anne Hathaway wrote Shakespeare’s plays,” Isserlis writes. The cellist, who along with Julian Lloyd-Webber was one of the musicians to publically refute Jarvis’s research when it first emerged back in 2006, describes the Welsh-born, Australian conductor and academic as “a charming and sincere man” but considers his theory to be “pure rubbish”.

Isserlis begins his critique with Anna Magdalena’s notoriously error-laden manuscript, which clearly states (in her own hand) that the suites were composed by JS Bach and contain no crossings out or corrections as one might expect in an original composition. “Certainly to my eyes – and incidentally to those of the two musicians I know who were interviewed for the film, neither of whom believe the theory in any way – it is clearly a copy,” he writes. He also points out that claiming that most of Bach’s greatest works were written after his second marriage is somewhat specious as Bach was then in his mid-30s and most composer’s would be expected to have written their finest output in the second half of their lives.

The trailer for Written by Mrs Bach is now available on YouTube and it makes for fairly sensationalist viewing, including as it does Jarvis’s extrapolated theories about Bach’s extramarital affair, Maria Barbara Bach’s possible suicide and the systematic destruction of Anna Magdalena’s musical reputation by her supposedly embittered stepsons.

Admitting that Anna Magdalena may have composed (though pointing out that there is no evidence for it whatsoever), Isserlis concludes by asking why he is so certain the Cello Suites are by Bach. “It is partly because there are countless connections between the suites and many of his other works,” he says, “but even more because the language is so clearly his – that perfection of utterance that is pure JS Bach.

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