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10. The Singer. Part V

In the article “The Singer. Part III” it was shown with the example of the cantata BWV 210.1 “O angenehme Melodei” (“Oh Pleasant Melody”) that there certainly were opportunities for Anna Magdalena to perform in public in Leipzig. There were performances in honour of crowned heads, aristocrats, and wealthy citizens. Cantatas are also known to have been performed to honour academics. In the necrology for Johann Sebastian Bach, to which his son Carl Philipp Emanuel contributed, we can read that his father had composed many “dramas, serenades, birthday, name-day and funeral pieces, wedding masses and some comical songs as well”. (Dok III page 86) But of all areas, this has an unusually high proportion of lost compositions. (Schulze/ Wolff, 1989, page 1447) How significant these losses can be is exemplified by the wedding cantatas. “Complete wedding masses”, during which a cantata would usually have been heard, are included in thirty entries in the Leipzig marriage registers between 1723 and 1748. It can be assumed that the majority of these would have been commissioned from the leading Leipzig Capellmeister Bach. (Schulze 2007, page 600) Many of them must have been lost, because only four cantatas for these occasions are mentioned in the Bach Compendium. One of these is the cantata for soprano and alto “Vergnügte Pleißenstadt” (“Happy City on the Pleisse”. The Pleisse is the river that runs through Leipzig. BWV 216). It was performed in 1726 for the wedding of Susanne Regina Hempel and Johann Heinrich Wolff, which took place in the Schellhafer House. Only the two solo parts have survived. Their story is so interesting that it is worth a closer look. In 1901 the two scores were presented to the public as a sensation in an exhibition in Berlin. After that they disappeared and were no longer accessible for research. (NBA I/40, Critical Report, pages 26 ff.) In 2003 they made a surprise reappearance in Tokyo. (Isyama 2003, pages 199 ff.) The libretto is by Christian Friedrich Henrici, who published it under his pseudonym Picander in volume 2 of “Ernst- Schertzhafften und Satyrischen Gedichte” (“Serious, Humorous and Satirical Poems”).


Title of the Libretto for the cantata “Vergnügte Pleißenstadt” (“Happy City on the Pleisse”) in Picander: “Ernst- Schertzhafften und Satyrischen Gedichte” (“Serious, Humorous and Satirical Poems”), second part, second edition, Leipzig 1734, page 379.


This wedding cantata can serve as an example of Johann Sebastian Bach’s flexible use of his works. The soprano aria “Angenehme Hempelin” (“Lovely Miss Hempel”) occurs with a different text in the cantata “Ich bin in mir vergnügt” (“I am content within myself”) BWV 204. The instrumentation is similar to that of cantata BWV 210, intended for Duke Christian and then for Count Fleming and then for other wealthy patrons. (See the article “The Singer. Part III”) This was also composed for a relatively small ensemble (flute, two oboes, two violins, viola and continuo). Whereas on these occasions wealth was clearly visible, the cantata "Ich bin in mir vergnügt" (“I am content within myself”) was more likely to have been for one or more occasions where modesty was to be praised.


Performances by Anna Magdalena Bach in churches cannot be ruled out either. In the bible the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 33 says: “Ewre weyber/ last schweygen vnter der gemeyne (“Let your women be silent in the congregation”. Luther Bible 1522). But there are known occasions in the first half of the eighteenth century where female singers appeared in churches. It is reported about Johann Mattheson that: “On the 17th of September [1716] he made music in the cathedral and showed Mrs. Kayser up to the choir loft, which, apart from the above example, had never happened in a Hamburg church that a woman had performed; but from then on certainly happened in the cathedral at times.” (Mattheson 1740, page 203)

It is verifiable that the said Margaretha Susanna Kayser, as well as another very well-known singer Anna Maria Schober, (Gerber 1790, column 706; Gerber 1792, column 442) performed in a church in Darmstadt during the funeral of the Landgrave’s wife Elisabeth Dorothea in January 1710. (Sorg 2014, pages 230 ff.)

Anna Magdalena Bach participated in the funeral service of Duke Leopold which took place in the “City and cathedral churches of Köthen”. (Dok II page 190)

It is therefore not permissible to generally assume that solo performances by women in church were forbidden. It must be shown for each individual case how it was handled in the specific church at what time and on what occasion.


Unfortunately there is no reliable information about Anna Magdalena Bach's attitude to such performances. It is very likely that as a former court singer, she generally very much enjoyed participating in various occasions. But working with musicians does not necessarily always have to be enjoyable. Treatment by patrons or stage fright can spoil the pleasure of making music as well.

We also do not know up to what age she sang in public. The famous singers Faustina Hass (1696-1781) or Margaretha Susanna Kayser (1690-1774) still performed after their 50th year. (Kutsch/Riemens 2003, page 509; Maertens 1988, pages 112 and 246 ff.)


Summary: Conceptions of the life of the Bach family are often based on a model of married life which first became typical for certain classes in the 19th-20th century. By declaring these conceptions to be the norm, Anna Magdalena Bach’s sphere has been reduced to the private family area. But it was typical for her time that the spouses functioned as working partners, which can be convincingly evidenced by research. (Wunder 1992) It can be shown that Anna Magdalena Bach maintained her abilities as a singer by regular practice after the move to Leipzig in 1723. (See the article "The Singer, Part II") Her husband composed cantatas for performances outside his church employment and they were heard in homages, tributes and weddings in front of illustrious audiences. These performances were paid for. When soprano parts were performed by others, they had to be paid. As we can see from Johann Sebastian Bach’s letters, financial matters were not unimportant to him. From an economic perspective alone, it would have been very unwise not to have used the musical abilities of Anna Magdalena (and the grown-up children). Johann Sebastian Bach expresses in 1730 that he had competent performers available in them with the statement that he can “give a vocal and instrumental concert” with his family. (Dok I, page 68)

The word “profession” generally means a learned, repeating activity with which money is earned. The professional progress of a person is called a “career”. Based on these definitions, the theory that Anna Magdalena Bach had to end her career as a singer when she married and moved to Leipzig is untenable. She worked with one of the best musician, Johann Sebastian Bach, and her performances were paid. This activity was so definitive for her that it is given in the description of her portrait in the estate catalogue of her stepson Carl Philipp Emanual Bach in 1790: “Bach (Anna Magd.) Soprano”. (See the article “What did Anna Magdalena Bach look like?”)


Translation: Alan Shepherd




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