Album information

Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach (selection)

J.S. Bach‘s wife, Maria Barbara, died suddenly in the summer of 1720, while the composer was visiting Karlsbad with his employer, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. She was buried on July 7, before her husband could return. Father of four children at the age of 36, Bach soon thought of remarrying. However, it was only a year later that he turned to Anna Magdalena Wilcke (or Wülcken), a young singer 16 years his junior who sometimes sang at the court of Cöthen. He married her in December 1721, a year and a half before he was hired as the new cantor of St. Thomas in Leipzig.

It is very possible that Anna Magdalena Bach had to give up a career in opera to take care of Bach‘s children from his first marriage, who’s ages ranged from 6 to 13. In fact, we know very little about her life in the shadow of the great Bach, if only that she gave birth to 13 children, seven in the first seven years of her marriage. For some three decades she was an exemplary wife, managing the household and offering gracious hospitality to her husband’s many cousins, friends and students visiting their home on a regular basis. Apart from her domestic duties,

There was much music-making in the Bach household, as can be imagined, and the most charming legacy of this domestic activity remains the Notenbüchlein vor A.M. Bachin, or “Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach,” in which many generations of musicians have since found their first piano or harpsichord lessons. Previous to this, there had been two other “little books” in the family: the first copied in 1720 for Wilhelm Friedemann’s music education, contained the first versions of some of the fugues later found in the Well-Tempered Clavier with the two- and three-part Inventions and Sinfonias. A second book for Anna Magdalena dating from 1722 contained the first five French Suites, two-thirds of which are now lost. The Notebook which is the object of this recording is particular in that, when Bach gave it to his wife in 1725, it contained only a few pieces. In the years that followed, Anna Magdalena added the first Prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the first two French Suites (the second is incomplete), the Aria which served as the basis for the “Goldberg” Variations, as well as a number of vocal pieces, many of which are anonymous. Many of these airs, chorales and lieder evoke calmness, sleep or eternal rest. For her own use, Anna Magdalena also transposed to G major the first recitative and second aria from the Cantata BWV 82, Ich habe genug. The aria, however, is presented without instrumental ritornellos and simply provides the continuo as an accompaniment. In addition to these works are numerous simple pieces, copied by various members of the family, many of them written in the galant style. Often noted down anonymously and no doubt for pedagogical purposes, these minuets and polonaises, also used for dancing lessons, are not by Bach Sr., but by a variety of composers such as Christian Petzold or Johann Adolph Hasse.

In addition to the renowned name with which it is associated, the Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach is an excellent example of household musical practice, or Hausmusik, through which the rising middle class expressed its new-found values of domestic tenderness and happiness. These are the same values that are so well depicted in Chardin’s most beautiful paintings through characters, objects and scenes of daily life.

© François Filiatrault
Translation: Patricia Abbott

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