TV Highlights

Written by Mrs Bach

BBC Four - 8pm

Who's in it?

Composer Sally Beamish and music expert Martin Jarvis delved into one of the most controversial questions to hit classical music in recent times: did Bach’s wife have a hand in the creation of some of his most celebrated music?

In a nutshell

Bach is one of the biggies. He’s right up there with Beethoven and Mozart as the titans who shaped the course of Western music. But what about the thorny issue of Mrs Bach? Because it IS a thorny issue, at least as far as commentators like Martin Jarvis go. A noted musicologist, Jarvis was one of the dissenting voices in this film, who claimed Anna Magdalena – Bach’s wife – had a huge and secret influence on the cello suites which have bewitched generations of listeners.

Of course, it’s a claim that’s rubbed many more conservative voices up the wrong way. There is evidence, to be sure – she transcribed his work, for one thing, and definitely had some say in… well, something. Taking us on a trip through Europe, with Martin Jarvis poking about in Berlin, Paris and London, the programme went all CIS on us in parts, with documents put under the glare of forensic analysis to see who was writing what all those years ago. Detective stories don’t come much more highbrow than this.

What's the verdict?

While it’s great that women’s contribution to classical music is finally being unearthed after centuries of marginalisation, the case for Anna Magdalena is far from watertight, and would have hit a fair few false notes for more sceptical viewers. But whoever wrote the music, it’s just great that we have it.

Star rating: 3/5

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07-07-2011