Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical Notebooks

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

At one time a star in her own right as a singer, Anna Magdalena (1701–60) would go on to become, through her marriage to the older Johann Sebastian Bach, history’s most famous musical wife and mother. The two musical notebooks belonging to her continue to live on, beloved by millions of pianists young and old. Yet the pedagogical utility of this music—long associated with the sound of children practicing and mothers listening—has encouraged a rosy and one-sided view of Anna Magdalena as a model of German feminine domesticity.
Sex, Death, and Minuets offers the first in-depth study of these notebooks and their owner, reanimating Anna Magdalena as a multifaceted historical subject—at once pious and bawdy, spirited and tragic. In these pages, we follow Magdalena from young and flamboyant performer to bereft and impoverished widow—and visit along the way the coffee house, the raucous wedding feast, and the family home. David Yearsley explores the notebooks’ more idiosyncratic entries—like its charming ditties on illicit love and searching ruminations on mortality—against the backdrop of the social practices and concerns that women shared in eighteenth-century Lutheran Germany, from status in marriage and widowhood, to fulfilling professional and domestic roles, money, fashion, intimacy and sex, and the ever-present sickness and death of children and spouses. What emerges is a humane portrait of a musician who embraced the sensuality of song and the uplift of the keyboard, a sometimes ribald wife and oft-bereaved mother who used her cherished musical notebooks for piety and play, humor and devotion—for living and for dying.
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About the author

David Yearsley is professor of music at Cornell University and the author of Bach’s Feet: The Organ Pedals in European Culture and Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jul 11, 2019
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780226617848
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Music
History / Europe / Germany
Music / General
Music / Genres & Styles / Classical
Music / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Franz Xaver Hauser (1794–1870), born near Prague in Czechoslovakia, combined his career of singing and teaching with a consuming interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.



Hauser was a colleague of Felix Mendelssohn, Moritz Hauptmann, Robert Schumann, Jenny Lind, and Otto Jahn; author of a text on vocal pedagogy that stayed in print for more than a century; founder of the Munich Tonal Academy, which is still in existence; and the primary private contributor to the complete edition of Bach’s works.



In this remarkable biography, Dale A. Jorgenson discloses the existence of the great legacy left by Hauser. Although his achievements were many, Hauser’s greatest contribution was his determined effort to catalogue all the known works of J. S. Bach, collect and share all the original manuscripts and authentic copies of Bach’s work, and make his unpublished catalogue, the manuscripts, and his professional guidance available to the Bach Society, which was founded in Leipzig in 1850.



This activity provided a meaningful dimension to Hauser’s life apart from his stage career. He made a wide circle of significant friends who loved Bach’s music or who were themselves leaders in literature and the arts—Ludwig Tieck, Schumann, the Grimm Brothers, and many others.



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Bach's St. Matthew Passion is universally acknowledged to be one of the world's supreme musical masterpieces, yet in the years after Bach's death it was forgotten by all but a small number of his pupils and admirers. The public rediscovered it in 1829, when Felix Mendelssohn conducted the work before a glittering audience of Berlin artists and intellectuals, Prussian royals, and civic notables. The concert soon became the stuff of legend, sparking a revival of interest in and performance of Bach that has continued to this day.Mendelssohn's performance gave rise to the notion that recovering and performing Bach's music was somehow "national work." In 1865 Wagner would claim that Bach embodied "the history of the German spirit's inmost life." That the man most responsible for the revival of a masterwork of German Protestant culture was himself a converted Jew struck contemporaries as less remarkable than it does us today—a statement that embraces both the great achievements and the disasters of 150 years of German history.In this book, Celia Applegate asks why this particular performance crystallized the hitherto inchoate notion that music was central to Germans' collective identity. She begins with a wonderfully readable reconstruction of the performance itself and then moves back in time to pull apart the various cultural strands that would come together that afternoon in the Singakademie. The author investigates the role played by intellectuals, journalists, and amateur musicians (she is one herself) in developing the notion that Germans were "the people of music." Applegate assesses the impact on music's cultural place of the renewal of German Protestantism, historicism, the mania for collecting and restoring, and romanticism. In her conclusion, she looks at the subsequent careers of her protagonists and the lasting reverberations of the 1829 performance itself.
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