WRITTEN BY MRS BACH: BROKEN SILENCE

By Alex MCCALL, Eirini VACHLIOTI

GLASGOW FILM PRODUCTIONS LIMITED - as PROD

Art - Culture - Completed 2017

Using forensic document examination and professional testimony, this film sets out to procve that Anna Magdalena Bach, the second wife of Johann Sebastian Bach, was the composer - or the principal composer, of some of the maestro's most famous works.

Festivals
& Awards

CLASSICAL ARTS FILM FESTIVAL USA 2017
AN IN-DEPTH LOOK - BEST DOCUMENTARY
    • Year of production
    • 2017
    • Genres
    • Art - Culture, Documentary
    • Countries
    • UNITED KINGDOM
    • Languages
    • ENGLISH
    • Budget
    • 0.3 - 0.6 M$
    • Duration
    • 83 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Alex MCCALL, Eirini VACHLIOTI
    • Writer(s)
    • Robert BEEDHAM
    • Producer(s)
    • Pamela KAUFMAN, Alex MCCALL, Robert BEEDHAM, Gunnar DEDIO
    • Synopsis
    • The film opens with a montage of contributors: Myleene Klass, singer, model and TV presenter, trained in classical music, describes her love of the music; Professor Martin Jarvis, musician/conductor turned detective who’s book the film is based on, explains how the music Bach is most famous for, came after he met Anna Magdalena; Sally Beamish, award-winning classical musician, composer and our presenter, excitedly discovers Anna’s writing ‘where it shouldn’t be’; and German Jorge Hansen says she was a composer.

      Sally explains that while Bach wrote many compositions, works attributed to him were later credited to others, like pupil Krebs. Sally asks if Anna really have been a composer? She explains how modern-day forensic-science is used to investigate Bach’s calligraphy.

      We meet Martin at home in Darwin, Australia, and hear how he spent 25 years investigating his theory: Anna was a composer. Despite being a female composer herself, Sally found it hard to believe. She was intrigued however, but questioned that the famous Cello Suites weren’t Bach’s compositions. She explains how Martin found 17 musical differences why they weren’t Bach’s work. Martin tells how his investigation was sparked by trying to understand the music, and challenging that it was Bach’s. And he explains that the hurdles put in his way energised his efforts.

      Sally explains one such challenge: calligraphy. Handwriting has specific characteristics, but does music calligraphy? Martin discovered a paper published in 1918 that confirms it: normal handwriting and music calligraphy share characteristics. Anna had always been viewed as a copyist, but can we tell if she’s composing or not? Martin explains that copying is slow, while Anna’s writing doesn’t appear slow, but flowing. He says she is copying, but it’s her own work.

      At Sydney Opera House, Martin knows harpsichordist Elizabeth Anderson needs musical not forensic evidence. He explains his theory that three Bach notebooks from the 1700s, in Anna’s writing, were out of order and not a copy. Elizabeth plays a version of ‘Well Tempered Clavier’, the music odd. But when she plays Martin’s ordered version, it flows. Martin is convinced Anna’s the composer, but Elizabeth wants more evidence.

      In Vienna, award-winning cellist Tilly Cernatori, among the world’s most gifted soloists, backs Martin. She was the first in the world to release ‘The Cello Suites CD in Anna’s name, a big risk, and statement for women’s rights and Anna.

      And at London’s Royal Academy of Music, Dr. Timothy Jones, Deputy Director, is impressed by Martin’s forensic work, and refers to famed composers whose work was attributed to others. But, why the storm over Anna being the composer?

      At Darwin University, Martin’s colleague historian Dr Alan Powel has his own theory: because it’s a woman.

      And back in London, Myleene discusses the challenges of being a mother and being versatile, and supports Anna and her composing abilities.

      At the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, a digital analyst presents evidence that Anna’s calligraphy appears in one piece, but not another, so inconclusive. But, the musical structure of ‘The Cello Suites’ is different to other Bach compositions.

      Tilly’s own study of ‘The Cello Suites’ led her to agree, and then, knew nothing about Anna. But, they felt like typical female emotions to her.

      Sally also visited famous solo violist Bruno Gurianna ex RAM Chair, near Venice. He’s a lifelong student of ‘The Cello Suites’ and describes them as different, ‘more human’ and senses they may have been written by Anna.

      Tilly describes it’s her instinct that makes her feel the Suites are more feminine. And, that Anna was a composer and shouldn’t be written out of history.

      In Leipzig, Martin wants scientific corroboration of his findings. Enter American Heidi Harrelson, an author and no-nonsense, respected Professor of Documentary Examination who studied The Dead Sea Scrolls, among others. No music scholar, she’s only interested in who the writer is, no matter which Bach.

      And Sally describes being a busy mother and composer without female role-models, and music history making female musicians invisible.
      Her first reaction to Martin’s theory was flat denial, surprising herself, her bias based on experience. But, Myleene has no such doubts. Anna was a composer, but women’s rights were denied, even like today.

      At Glasgow University, Martin meets Prof John Butt, a global expert on Bach, who’s also delved into the psychology of women in music. He says people have problems admitting that women are as creative as men, and Anna appears overlooked.

      Sally explains that history excludes women who must fight against that, nor was their work valued like men’s. And, with Martin challenging Bach autographs, manuscripts everywhere may be devalued.

      He and Heidi met again in Leipzig, but hit a major problem: The Bach archive banned them, then, senior staff refused interviews, much to their shock. But Martin uses the delay to discuss his theories with her. TheTocatta and Fugue, celebrated ‘Bach’ music, is accepted
      As written by his pupil, Krebs. What else wasn’t written by Mr Bach? Why should one piece be attributable, and another heretical? Because it’s a woman?

      Sally explains that her profession ‘computes’ as male. And incredibly, in Bach’s family tree, every woman has been wiped out. There are also questions about Bach’s life-story. His first autobiography not written until 1852 by Forkel, based on details provided by Bach’s son CP Emanuel, thereby ‘inventing’ Bach’s life. But, did a biased account of his life become historical fact?

      Prof Emily Unseld, specialist in 18th century family life, explains Bach’s story is based on what we’re led to believe, others simply forgotten.

      Then, we discover how Martin became a forensic examiner: his father was Head of Special Branch who said ‘trust nobody, examine things yourself.’ So, Martin did. He needed samples of writing proven to be Anna’s, and in Leipzig, an exciting breakthrough. He discovered her petition to the Council seeking child maintenance after Bach’s death in 1750. With this, and her music calligraphy, he’d deconstruct her writing, and prise the secrets out.

      In Weimar, Martin discovered two more compositions dated 1713, and Anna’s writing. Why were they important? Bach’s patron, Duke Wilhelm Ernst, was celebrating his birthday. Bach would attend, and it’s likely Anna went with her parents, accomplished musicians. She was 12 then, Bach scholars adamant they didn’t meet till she was 20. Martin explains that the writing on those documents are part, or entirely, Anna’s. The second document, song ‘Alli mitt Gott’, had been removed before a fire at Weimar Library in 2005 destroyed 50,000 documents. What was lost that could’ve helped Martin’s research? But, he was convinced the song was Anna’s. He believes the relationship Anna had with Bach can’t be as we’ve assumed.

      In Leipzig, he meets Heidi who makes forensic examinations of the song and Anna’s handwriting. Eureka. She agrees Anna is the composer. Martin believes Bach collaborated with Anna when she was 12. Was she a child prodigy, like Tilly?

      In Israel, we meet child prodigy Alma Deutscher, a musician from age 2, and composer from 6. Does she work like Sally, a composer from age 4? Her ideas arrive at work, or play. Did Bach spot similar potential in Anna, at 12? Alma’s parents are musicians, like Anna’s. She’s home-educated, like Anna. And Alma expresses anger and frustration at the prospect of not being recognised as a composer. Most 18th century women didn’t have opportunities to compose large works, but Anna did, though Bach would get the credit. And Myleene says that even today, Anna’s not given due credit. To compose, you need talent, not simply education, and she was a singer, so had the gifts from childhood.

      How would Bach acolytes react to that? Jorge Hansen, Director of the Bach Museum, is unsurprised that Anna composed from aged 12. Other documents suggest she was Bach’s pupil. He would’ve been a passionate teacher, and that passion spilled when he asked Duke Ernst for a transfer to Prince Leopold’s Court. Raging at being denied, Bach ended up in jail. But in 1717, he took the job as Kapellmeister at Cothen Court. Years later, Bach gave Anna a job there as a singer. Did his home became hers? It appears so, her writing appearing in Bach’s son’s Wilhelm Freidman’s notebook. Anna was the only female at Court, and paid ten times more than the other musicians. Why? For doing something special. Court records named copyists: she’s not there. She was singing, and composing…

      Every Summer, the wealthy went to Carlsbad, Prince Leopold and Bach followers of the party scene. Bach brought musicians, Anna among them. Did they have an affair? On Bach’s return home, his wife had died of unknown causes, buried in an unmarked grave. How did she die? Was she depressed about her husband’s interest in Anna? Was it suicide? 17 months later, Bach and Anna married. Bach was ‘directed’ to marry at home, not church. Because their relationship was scandalised?

      18th century marriage meant a wife deputised for her husband, including composing. Life was good, until Frederika Henrietta, Prince Leopold’s wife-to-be arrived. Bach was out of work. Was it the scandal? Bach found work at St. Thomas’s School in Leipzig, teaching Latin. Good for him, devastating for Anna, as the city banned women from signing in public. And, Anna’s stepdaughter Katharina Dorothea was only 5 years younger, suggesting a stormy home life. Anna had 13 children, though only 6 survived, and the major question is: could she have time to compose?

      There were servants, and the musical family did musical tasks, Sally believing she did compose, Tilly believing that society shapes what a woman can or can’t do. Even aged 10, Alma faces tough choices, but is clear she wants to be a composer. And Myleene is just happy that beautiful music gets written, no matter by whom. Tilly’s ambitions lie in conducting, but feels it’s difficult for women. So, what is it about music? Tilly thinks some men feel threatened, while Myleene says women won’t be written out.

      The Bach’s were musically prolific during the Leipzig years, the couple working and contributing without a care for ownership. Myleene believes their equal partnership is one of the greatest musical love stories ever told.

      At Sydney Opera House, the original of the world famous ‘Goldberg Variations’ is in Anna’s hand. Martin believes Bach wrote the Variations for it. Despite positive corroboration, Martin wanted to hear from sceptic and Bach expert Ruth Tatlow. She thinks Anna may have composed, but simpler, like the Goldberg piece, concluding Anna was an apprentice.

      But, the renowned ‘Cello Suites’ are complex, and Martin’s assertions that Anna wrote them, with input from Bach, have caused worldwide controversy. Sally believes Martin’s investigation is very valuable, and women did compose, publishing under their husband’s names.

      There is one piece that seemingly supports Anna as composer of ‘The Cello Suites.’ Bach family friend Ludwig Schwanenberger wrote a credit for Anna on her personal notebook: ‘Written by Mrs Bach, his wife.’ Ruth Tatlow disputes that, saying Bach is also credited, and again, Myleene notes that even today, people won’t accept Anna as a composer and she must have as a musician in her musical family. Bruno Gurianna says, after reading Martin’s book, ‘Why not?’ Sally agrees, asking could Anna have made this copy from her own composition?

      And Heidi Harrelson’s professional, unbiased opinion is clear: Anna wrote ‘The Cello Suites’ and she eliminates JS Bach. Myleene says the purists can’t believe because their foundations are being rocked.

      Martin had another big issue: Bach’s eyesight. At the renowned Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification in Dundee, Prof Caroline Wilkinson recreated Bach’s head in 3D, revealing his many eye operations which helped cause his early death. By 1740, his vision was bad, so someone else composed the music. Was that Anna? Did Bach dictate? Did Anna merely copy? Tilly notes if she had time to do these things, she had time to compose.

      And another quantum shift: Heidi challenges Bach’s very signature, never mind his poor eyesight in composing. She traces them digitally, and notes his 1720 signature flows, and in 1748 when he’s virtually blind. Was it his signature? Heidi concludes Bach couldn’t sign his own name then, so it’s highly unlikely he could compose. As Bach’s myopia worsened and cataracts developed, Martin investigated blindness and calligraphy. He asked his optometrist relative Melvin Kaufman and musician sister Claire for opinions. Claire explains the Council worried Bach’s inability to write would affect them, and in 1749, persuaded him to have surgery. Dr. John Taylor, considered a quack today, conducted two crude, brutal operations – without anaesthetic. The results were catastrophic for Bach.

      After his death in 1750, Bach’s sons abandoned Anna, leaving her to survive on city Council hand-outs until she died, in 1760. But, what happened after her death? Bach’s eldest sons achieved success as musicians, lauding their great father, ignoring step-mother Anna. Martin mentions a mystery: all Bach’s letters to Anna, Bach’s day-books and a portrait he commissioned of Anna vanished. Why? We’ll never know, but Martin’s says someone wanted no mention of her in history. Dr. Powel explains ‘they’ shamelessly tried to extinguish Anna from history. If she hadn’t done anything significant, why do that?

      Sally asks were these actions deliberate? And regarding Bach’s signature, Heidi casts doubt on ‘authenticated’ signatures, all varied. Sally reveals this has huge implications for owners of ‘Bach’ manuscripts, but for music history itself. She explains an undisputed Bach signature had to be found. Success. At St. Katherine’s Church in Kothen, the priest lays out the original rare church register and behold, Bach’s signature. They discover another original is in the Bachhaus Museum in Eisenach.

      Heidi excitedly microscopically examined the document, while Jorge Hansen explains separation between copyists and composers is ‘nonsense.’ In the Baroque period, they were the same. Composers had teams, music coming from God, so the hand unimportant. Heidi stands by Martin’s assertions that Anna wrote ‘The Cello Suites’, her notes scribbled.

      Art and science clash historically, but Martin and Heidi’s scientific findings, presented at numerous prestigious forensic document conventions worldwide, have not once been contested. Tilly welcomes the facts and Heidi explains her work on The Dead Sea Scrolls is the same in this investigation. She remains neutral, the science doing the talking, and it supports Martin.

      But they need access to documents containing Bach’s and Anna’s writing. Finally, they are given access to Duchess Amalia Library and the original ‘Alli Mitt Gott.’ Martin had already found Anna’s writing in a facsimile: now, to verify the original, a historical moment. Heidi discovers over-writing, two pens involved: two writers. The calligraphy is Bach’s, the handwriting Anna’s. Heidi tells an excited Sally that this places Bach with Anna…aged 12. Myleene admires Anna’s strength, choices, writing and wisdom. Anna knew she’d be written out of history, and Myleene says she’s smashed right back.

      Harvard University houses the investigation’s most important document: ‘The Perpetual Canon for Four Voices’ dated 1713. Martin believes Anna composed it, aged 12. If Heidi verifies the date and handwriting, then Mr and Mrs Bach had a long, musical partnership. Heidi verified it…

      Aged 12, Anna was the Master’s apprentice, her family musicians, she had a musical education, and we now know, had the time and talent to compose. Sally concludes that there’s every possibility that ‘The Cello Suites’ were written by Mrs Bach.

      Martin concludes that through the centuries, there’s been problems recognising women’s contributions, but finally, Anna Magdalena Bach will get recognition…
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