Singer. The second wife of composer Johann Sebastian Bach. She was born Anna Wilcken in Zeitz, Saxony, into a musical family. Little is known of her career as a vocalist but she certainly knew Bach professionally at Cothen, where he was Kapellmeister from 1717. They married in December 1721, a year and a half after the death of the composer's first wife, and settled in Leipzig in 1723. The couple had 13 children, six of whom lived to adulthood, including future composers Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian (later known as "The London Bach"). Anna was an invaluable aide to her husband's duties as Cantor of Leipzig, copying and transcribing the reams of music he wrote for the city's five major churches; a number of his manuscripts exist only in her hand. He expressed his gratitude by dedicating several keyboard and chamber pieces to her, including the famous collection "The Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach" (two volumes, 1722 and 1725), and organized informal concerts at their home so she could have a performing outlet. When he died in 1750, Bach left no will and his modest estate was evenly split between Anna and the nine surviving children from both marriages. If the subsequent neglect of Bach's memory reflects scant credit on the Leipzig establishment, then the treatment of his widow reflects none at all. In 1751, church officials evicted Anna from the Cantor's quarters she had called home for nearly 30 years, and she spent the rest of her life scraping by on charity. Why her able-bodied children did nothing to alleviate her poverty is not known. She died at 58 in an almshouse and was buried at Leipzig's Alter Johannisfriedhof (Old St. John's Cemetery), where her husband had been laid to rest a decade before. J.S. Bach's forgotten grave was discovered during renovation of the church property in 1894. It contained a second coffin with the remains of a younger woman, possibly Anna, but apparently no effort was made to identify them. Her gravesite is now presumed lost. In the 1960s historians began to re-examine the role Anna played in Bach's life and art, and today there are revisionists who claim she was the actual composer of some of his late music. She is also the subject of a fictionalized film, "The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach" (1968).
Bio by: Bobb Edwards