Some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s greatest works may have actually been written by his wife

According to a new documentary about to premiere in London, some of the most famous works by the “father of all harmony,” Johann Sebastian Bach, might have actually been composed by his wife, Anna Magdalena. 

The theory–put forth by a professor of music, composer, and document forensics expert–is circumstantial but plausible, according to the Washington Post.

The argument rests on three legs: The pieces, according to the researchers, deviate from other Bach works in significant structural and technical respects; the manuscripts appear to be in the hand of Anna Magdalena with one front page actually saying “written by Mrs Bach” in French; and there is no proof Bach actually composed the works, only the possibly groundless assumption the composer wrote everything attributed to him. He left behind few personal papers, which might aid in documenting his work.

If true, Magdalena, a talented musician and singer in her own right, created these works on top of serving tirelessly as Bach’s copyist, being pretty much constantly pregnant for 14 years straight, and being married to “an egotistical and obstinate genius who believed the world should revolve around him.” After Bach died, she ended her life in poverty, remembered only as “the widow Bach.”

The theory is largely dismissed by the Bach scholarly world–shocking, I know. British composer Sally Beamish, one of the proponents of the theory in the film, said she was skeptical at first too. “I thought, ‘That’s impossible. She couldn’t have done it.’ Then I thought, ‘What am I saying?’ I’m a full-time professional composer. I wanted to look at the reasons why it was thought women couldn’t compose through the centuries.”

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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