Who wrote Bach’s cello suites?

Clive Paget, in Limelight Magazine

Written by Mrs Bach, presented by the respected British composer Sally Beamish, apparently uses analysis of ink and handwriting to support the idea that Anna Magdalena wrote not only the six Cello Suites, but also the Aria from the Goldberg Variations and the first prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Paget tweeted this this morning and specifically referenced the cello suites. Funny that my first thought was there was no way the prelude from the first suite and the first prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier were written by different people.

This hypothesis, the brainchild of Martin Jarvis of the Charles Darwin University in northern Australia, reminds me of the claims that do the rounds every so often that Shakespeare didn’t write the works that are known as his, or that Beethoven was black: fascinating, and a serious coup if true, but without nearly enough corroborating evidence.

Which brings us to:

Jarvis’s theory hinges on the long-known fact that the source for Bach’s Cello Suites exists only in the hand of Anna Magdalena—long considered a simple copyist as far as her husband’s work was concerned. Jarvis considers the originals to have “vanished”. Stylistic examination of the handwriting by researchers, according to Jarvis, is indicative of a creative outpouring, lacking the typical methodical slowness of a mere copyist.

Graphology. Less than worthless.

The article does mention Heidi Harralson, a respected forensic document examiner. She:

is convinced that “within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty” the composer was Anna Magdalena.

Note the position of those quotation marks. I expect her certainty relates much more to the handwriting—which we know in any case was Anna Magdalena’s—and less to the authorship of the work, which would be well outside her area of expertise.

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