Anna Magdalena as Bach's Copyist

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Among the wives of eighteenth-century composers, no one is perhaps more favourably and affectionately described than Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena (1701-1760). She has been commonly pictured as her husband's trusted assistant, copying his works in handwriting which closely resembled her husband's beautiful calligraphy. No one appreciates her contributions more than today's musicologists, for her copies are usually 'neat and accurate', and are often among the most important primary sources when Bach's autographs do not survive. Occasionally, however, it is difficult to accommodate this patronising view of her role and its significance. It is well known, for instance, that her copy of Bach's Cello Suites (BWV 1007-1012) contains an unusually large number of inaccuracies and copying errors. One must ask how many of these blunders should be ascribed to her. How would a 'neat and accurate' copyist produce such an error-ridden manuscript if she had made it from a fair copy? In this paper, I shall first discuss Anna's copies of Bach's works, and see if any particular patterns or tendencies in her copying activities emerge when these are placed in this broader chronological context. In an attempt to evaluate her performance as a copyist, I shall look at typical situations in which she worked, while at the same time seeking to discover what additional values her copies may bring to our studies of Bach's life and works.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-76
Number of pages18
JournalUnderstanding Bach
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


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