University of Sydney professor finds no argument to prove Anna Magdelena’s compositional authorship.

Having several times carefully perused the 430 pages of Martin Jarvis’ thesis (2007), I can find therein no argument to prove compositional authorship, put plenty of forensic discussion, with examples, about the authorship of his thesis’ claims regarding the compositional authorship of the Bach Cello Suites.

Why does Jarvis imply (but not really discuss with proof) that the “copyist” is (or, must be) the “author”? And especially a copyist who made so many silly and forgetful errors. I wonder how “ecrite par son spouse” (written by his wife) can come to mean “compose…”, when ‘to write’ and ‘to compose’ are not synonymous verbs.

I find it impossible to contemplate that someone as intrinsically honest as Johann Sebastian Bach would allow this kind of deception, especially as his obituary, composed by his son C.P.E. Bach and Johann Agricola, refers to his father’s outstanding solo pieces for violin and cello. As neither C.P.E. Bach nor his older brother W.F. Bach, the sons of Barbara Bach, were particularly fond of their stepmother Anna Magdalena Bach, it is hardly likely that C.P.E. Bach would refer so warmly to these works if they had been composed (rather than merely copoed out) by her.

And, given the quality and variety of the Cello Suites, where are the “other” significant works by her? The little tunes in the Anna Magdalena Book do not match in compositional quality any of the music in the Cello Suites.

I have spent years studying the several manuscripts of the violin solos (BWV1000-1006) and the four manuscripts of the Cellos Suites (the earliest of which may be that copy made by Johann Peter Kellner, not Anna Magdalena) and the Solo Flute Partita in my preparations to transcribe all these works for harpsichord in the style of J.S. Bach and am completing the publication of all my scores with an American publishing house. Many of Anna Magdalena’s errors and omissions (“infelicities” of a busy housewife) have been noted in my editorial notes to these five pulications (Anner Bylsma has likewise sadly referred to her score as “so full of mistakes”).

I would prefer to see more attention given to the question of whether the solo suites were composed for the violoncello or some other bass stringed instrument. The possibly earliest copy of these pieces by J.P. Kellner indicates they were composed for the “viola da basso”. Some scholar and performers now consider this may have been a “viola da spalle” (a large viola) or small bass (possibly the “bassetchen” in Bach’s inventory of instruments). This was attached by a button to ones coat and played up on the shoulder like a viola. It was often strung with five, rather than four, strings and could be variously tuned. These factors argue for it being ideal for managing the Fifth and Sixth Suites. This is a matter for valid research and scholarly discussion, which is much less contentious than the attributions of authorship propounded by Martin Jarvis.

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