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The Long Sufferings
of Anna Magdalena Bach

A set of music & text variations composed on a recently discovered theme by J.S. Bach's second wife, and a short note about the music used in Das Lange Leiden der Anna Magdalena Bach.

Last year in the Forschungsabteilung of the Stadtsbibliotek Leipzig, a fragment of notation was found. This single line of music was quite clearly a 'ground bass' intended for a set of variations.... or indeed improvisations. The line does bare some resemblance to a dance movement from The Anna Magdalena Songbook which Bach wrote for his second wife, the said Anna Magdalena....but this theme is not in the master's hand. Who then was the author? Handwriting experts have ruled out all of Bach's composer sons, so who's left? The mother of course. There IS a genetic link in the handwriting according to Dr. Fritz Meinhof of Humbolt University, Berlin. And he is convinced after 2 years of study that the fragment of music does indeed belong to Anna Magdalena. This represents quite an extraordinary historical find and it has sent Bach experts from around the world scurrying to Leipzig for a sneak look at the manuscript.

By chance (?) a photocopy of this fragment has ended up in the hands of Bach enthusiast and violinist Jon Rose... And with it he has composed a set of variations using the full range of Baroque variation techniques (inversions, retrograde, retrograde inversions, fugal forms, etc) for this exercise....but also more contemporary and anachronistic proceedures...including the use of various 'chaotic' algorithms and different and often radical keyboard 'tunings'. The recordings have been made using virtual 'period' instruments such as may have been found in the Bach household...they are played by members of The Orchestra of Ancient Guts under their guest conductor Dr. Johannes Rosenberg.
  • The improvised violin part is played by - Jon Rose
  • The spoken voice of Anna Magdalena - Lucy Bell
  • The sung voice of Anna Magdalena - Fatima Miranda
  • Technical direction - John Jacobs
  • Production for The ABC Listening Room - Sherre de Ly

The Long Sufferings of Anna Magdalena Bach
music & text by Jon Rose

theme of Anna Magdalena Bach

0' 40"

first variation on harpsichord with mistake

Between 1723 and 1742 I gave birth 13 times, Praise God, nothing unusual about that. Just a question of pushing the reset button and how's yer father...
1723Christiana Sophia Henrietta was born, Praise God. push the button.
1724Gottfried Heinrich was born, Praise God.
1725Christian Gottlieb was born. Praise G. & push the B.
1726Elizabeth Juliana Friederica was born.
1726Christiana Sophia Henrietta was buried, Praise G & PTB.
1727Birth of Ernestus Andreus.
1727Death of Ernestus, Praise God. reset.
1728Funeral of Christian Gottlieb.
1728Regina Johanna was born.
1729Short pause
1730Birth of Christiana Benedicta.
1730eh... Funeral of Christiana Benedict.
1731Christiana Dorothea was born.
1732Birth of Johann Christoph Friederich.
1732Death of Christiana Dorothea.
1733Out goes Regina Johanna.
1733Again.... in comes Johann August Abraham and later in 1733... out he goes again. Yep, curtains for Johann August Abraham.
1734Noch eine kleine pause, Thank God.
1735Birth of Johann Christian PTB.
1737Birth of Johanna Carolina.
1739As you can hear things slowing down a bit, death of my adopted son Johann Bernhard, born 1715 in Weimar.
1742Birth of Regia Susanna. and not forgetting the ever present offspring of Maria Barbara... that's the first Mrs. J.S.B. Then there's Wilhelm Friedemann... we call him Silly Willy 'cause he's gone quite mad... and Carl Philipp Emanual who's another impossible number cruncher... we call him CPE for short. (I blame the father).

2' 41"


Hi, my name is Anna Magdalena. Born 1701. I am a singer, you just heard me, nice stuff eh? In 1721 I got married to the Kappellmeister and Kantor Johann Sebastian Bach, so that was the end of my singing career. I also play the keyboards. In our house there are many different types, some are quite the latest thing. My husband's a bit of a collector you know. Normally I play just for myself but I'm willing to play for you on this occasion ... if you like.

0' 51"

canonic variation on piano

And this is one of our Cembalos, a period instrument.

canonic variation on cembalo in unjust intonation

So do I ever see the old man, I hear you ask. After all he is so busy training the choir and orchestra and, yes, a new cantata must be written every week. Of course, he cheats now and then and uses stuff from a few years back. No one ever notices though as the city fathers are all tone deaf. (she thought.) Plus he's such a cantankerous beast sometimes, I remember well the duel with the first trombone player a few years ago. He used to put time into the education of Silly Willy, CPE & Jo Junior... but those days are now long gone.

1' 28"

variation 2 on harpsichord

...mind you it's not every night, sometimes he just pounds away at the KKKKKK keyboards... till early in the morning. He says it's a genetic problem... all that pounding, pounding, pounding... Can't stop it he says... (it's God's will)... nonsense Husband says I... it's the random generator.

theme modulated with a random algorithm
violin plays retrograde version of the theme

You were asking about the violin player? Oh his name is Dr. Virtuus Seltsam the Older, he is always busy in our house, pops in and PPPPP pops out all the time. You see he is the undertaker... always busy like hell. But whether they are IN or OUTside his wooden box, at least none of our lot look defective... not like those Royal parasites with their weird noses and funny lips (she said).

1' 59"

sung commentary on the theme

Of course we have servants, they come with the position of Kappellmeister. But quite frankly they are a bit slack. That's why I do a lot of the work around the house myself... I use the latest technology. Das Nähende Klavier (sewing machine keyboard).

variation played on the Sewing Machine Keyboard

Can you imagine the amount of sewing that has to be done. Think on all those socks;(she thought) think on all those shirts; those vests; those blouses; those garters; those long unterhosen; those girdles; those winter shirts; those summer dresses; those korsetts...

(Laundry List or a short history of 18th century women's underwear) die Schnürbrust; das Mieder; das Schoßmieder; la Justaucorps; le Manteau; das Frauenleibchen; der Schnürleib; das Leibstück; das Fischbeinleibchen; der Brustgürtel; der Brustverbesserer; das Brustleibchen; die Brustbinde; die busenbinde; die Büsstenhebe; der Brusthalter; le Panier; le demi-panier; le panier en coupole; la Basquina; der Trommelreifrock; la Vertugade en Tambour; la Garde Infant; le Tontillo; la Criarde; 'ze hoop pettycoat; das Hüftpolster; der Hühnerkorb; die Steißrolle; der Weiberspeck; der Springrock; das Hänschen; la Camisole; la Chemise; das Wams; das Unterwams; das Brustwams; das Borstwams; la Jupe; das Appetitröckel; la Modeste - der oberste Unterrock; La Friponne - der mittlere Unterrock; la Secrete - der unterste Unterrock

zu dieser Zeit gab es noch Keine Unterhosen für Frauen. It might surprise you to know that up to this time us women still didn't wear underpants... (speed and efficiency).

3' 16"

harpsichord variation 3

Gave me a little book of tunes once, called it Anna Magdalena's Little Song Book... keep the little breeder happy (he thought). Bloody Cheek really. then there's the Klavierübung... I told him... it's just too damn long. Editing husband I say, it needs editing. Won't listen... all those numbers it's the process (he says) it's the beast (she says) watch out for the beast.

the Baroque Beast (dotted dance rhythm)

2' 10"

genetic variations?

Genes? ...where would we be without them... but as my mother always told me, if you want fresh genes in the morning, get 'em yourself... no good expecting other people to take care of the future. Come on ol' girl... in the bucket, please. But then again, I guess you can have too much of a good thing (she considered). Too many serious genes can get you in all kinds of trouble... It's making J. S. B. go blind. And after the blindness? er... we will be calling for Dr. Seltsam again I expect.

rondo variation form with 90% rotated inversion and improvised violin obligato

Bist du bei mir,
geh' ich mit Freuden zum sterben
und zu meiner Ruh
Ach, wie vergnügt
wär' so mein Ende,
es drückten deine schönen Hände
mir die getreuen Augen zu

(the text of a popular song from The Anna Magdalena Song Book)

3' 02"


How do like the music so far? I know... you are a fan of my husbands... thought you knew the whole opus eh but hadn't come across this... well of course you didn't dummy, that's because I wrote it. Yes its true I give the old man quite a few tips from time to time. Time you ask, where do I find the (TTTTT) time? I know what you're thinking, she can't be out of her 30's yet but she looks way past it. Let me tell you, so would you if you'd been cranking out little geniuses ever other year... not so much little Bachs, more like a bloody great river! ...anyway I'm still here to tell it unlike poor old Maria Barbara, the first Mrs. J.S.B.

pound, pound.
crank, crank.

but in a thousand years from now almost everyone will be related to old Johann Sebastian and me... how about that! (She wondered) Think of it... each and every one of them containing a few genes of your actual J.S.B. type genius... even those completely tone deaf!

retrograde version of the theme played on the Bowed Clavichord with violin obligato

1' 49"


How did you find that keyboard? It's a little number they sent us from Italy, (The Lateral Bowed Clavier)... based on the designs of Leonardo, so they say. Stands to reason eh... if we can come up with a Leonardo after a few million years, then we should be able to come up with a suitable problem for him to solve eh.

three versions of the tune played simultaneously (front, back and upside down)

You know Christiana Dorothea has to kneel and kiss the wounds of the crucified J.C. ...Our Lord and Saviour, Praise (GGGG) God in the highest heaven, Amen, etc... I mean that's a bit heavy isn't it for a little kid with sensitive (FFFF) fingers. Out piano tuner is the guy who gives the blood bits in the church a re-paint every few years. I mean I've tried telling Christiana Dorothea like it's not really like real but she takes it all so seriously poor kid... she had her first period last week.

trio variation with chaotic algorithm leading to statement of the theme

3' 04"

a frugal fugal variation

Some say that The Tree of Life is a miracle... naw don't reckon on that... it's a numbers grind... just like music. Like when you write a new theme out... you've only got 4 choices really haven't you... stay on the same note, go up... go down... or go back to the one you had before you started and try again. But hey, old JSB's been doing it for (YYYY) years and its amazing there's always new combinations. It'll never run out. Just a (NNNN) numbers game but bloody marvellous eh! The Undertaker, you remember, Dr. Seltsam... well he's a numbers man too... but he has taken the day off today; nobody died.

chaotic algorithm modulates the bass line

2' 04"


Just too many Jo's in this family. Johann this, Johanna that. It's the old man of course who is responsible for the names, I never get a word in on the subject. I must say, I think (she thought) he could show more imagination on this. I tell him he's immortalised himself enough already but it doesn't seem to register in his brain. Husband I say, the Universe doesn't give a monkey's anyway... give up on the 'why'... just enjoy the 'how'(she realised). He was at me again last night, pounding away, pounding away.

variation with time (per augmentationem), organ and voice glissando

2' 24"

das Bügelnde Klavier (The Ironing Keyboard)
This is a 1741 Clavichord, hot off the shelf.

you know, the dream of every note of music is to become 2 notes, and the dream of every 2 notes is to multiply and become 4, and 4 to become 8, and so on to the end of time. This is secundum naturam (according to nature)... and there is nothing weird... contra naturam (against the laws of nature) about that... ask Dr. Seltsam our undertaker. He'll go for the beast (praeter naturam) anytime over miracles (super duper naturam)... makes for more interesting music and besides... keeps him in work too. But as he says 'The solution to the problem of life will be seen when the problem disappears'... get yer head round that one eh!

repeated phrases of the tune (per Fragmentationem) played by three ironing boards ad nauseum; followed by chorale, sung with overtone counterpoint and improvised violin obligato

5' 19"


This is the 19 tone, seriously Untempered Clavier... and the piano tuner is not allowed to touch it.

inversion of the theme rotated at 120%

So how did we arrive at Johann Sebastian?
First there was nothing; then there was nothing much; then there was thought; then there was panic; so then we came up with God; then we had to hang around, so there was music... still hanging around. I mean to say that meaning could not have existed before there was a mind that needed a meaning as to why...

chaotic algorithm played by amplified violin bow and unjustly tuned forte piano

2' 16"

das Wohltemperierte Klavier (the Well-tempered Keyboard)

This is a recent Silbermann Flügel, very modern kind of Thelonius Monk meets Glen Gould piano variation with improvised violin obligato.

3' 25"


Ah, it's time to get the sauerkraut out of the washing machine. One thing about being the Kapellmeister's wife is that we can at least afford the latest digital appliances. We've got the numbers, you see.

the Chromatic Washing Machine

Well I've gathered around a few family members and relations for the next variation, the old man himself has even condescended to play the Große Violine from Bologna. I have to say, now that's a real beast to play.

We used to do this kind of thing a lot in the old days before Silly Willy went mad and CPE got famous. Nowadays all the kids just sit like stuffed dummies in front of their PC's. (she laughed) Yes I hear you... what ever happened to family purpose, you say?

Ah here comes the old grouch... we better get on with it. So is the Universe such a bleak place?

1' 22"


O.K. ready? And...

variations in the style of an English Round (add Violin Interruptus)

Oh, it's Dr. Seltsam again. Somebody must have died.

sampling improvisation

Well, I CCCCCcounted all the family just before dinner... they ALL seemed to be there. Must have missed one (she planned).
Yes, Hi Dr. Seltsam... eh please carry on. You've come for the old man? Ah... upstairs, first room on the left... Don't mention it.

3' 19"

variations on the family tree

Johann Samuel
Johann Christian
Johann Günther ...all Bachs, the lot of them

Johann Ernst ...son of Johann Bernhard
Johann Georg ...son of Johann Ernst

all muso's the lot of them

Johann Friedrich
Johann Aegidius
Wilhelm Hieronymus ...from the seed of Johann Christoph

Johann Lorenz
Johann Elias
Johann Valentin ...all great talents, so they say

Tobias Friederich
Tobias Friederich
Johann Bernhard
Johann Christoph
Johann Heinrich
Johann Andreas ...seeded by Johann Christoph
Philip Christian Georg
Ernst Carl Gottfried
Ernst Christian
Johanna Carolina ...good God, there's a talented woman slipped in there somehow, whatever next...

Johann Christoph Friederich
Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst
Samual Anton ...I quite fancied him in my time (she thought)

Gottlieb Friedrich
Johann Philipp
Johann Heinrich
Ambrosius Johann
Johann Nicholas Ephraim
Andreas Michael
Johann Balthaser ...he really did live up a family tree that one
Stephan Jacob
Johannes Caspar

(family tree list fades out)

2' 11"

total time of Anna's sufferings...
43' 30"

Anna's Orphan number 1.

a real time improvisation using violin, interactive midi bow and samples derived from the above production.

5' 43"

Anna's Orphan number 2.

a real time improvisation played from midi keyboard using samples derived from the production.

8' 28"

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