Histories of Cinema
March 31, Sunday
19:00. Introduction by Santos Zunzunegui
20:00. Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (Germany, 1968, 94 min.)
1721, court of His Serene Highness the Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. The voice-over of Anna Magdalena Bach informs us of her marriage to Johann Sebastian Bach, widower from the previous year and with four living children from his first marriage (“He was kapellmeister, director of the chamber musicians of the court of Anthalt-Köthen ...”). We are told how the musician wrote a series of books of musical exercises for his son Friedemann (1720) and also for her (1722) and that the marriage of the prince to a wife of “mild musical inclination” led to Bach, despite his initial doubts, changing residence to become kapellmeister (director of music) and cantor in Leipzig (1723).
In a nostalgic evocation the voice tells us that from a very early age Bach showed a musical inclination that led him to travel much of Germany on foot to listen to the great organists of his time. Meanwhile, the young man, barely 18 years of age, was appointed organist of Arnstadt (1703) and later of Mühlhausen (1707) and Weimar (1708).
But although his growing fame had led to him being invited by the University of Leipzig to examine the great organ of the Church of St Paul, his duties as cantor at the time did not include organ services. In fact, “he was the main teacher in the school of St Thomas, after the rector and the vice-rector, and since this school was responsible for the music in four of the churches of the town and also in the matrimonial and funeral services, he had to fully apply himself to ensure that the boys of the school were both capable and well-instructed in singing: the boys who went to the New Church and the Church of St Paul only had to sing corals and motets; but those who went to the two main churches, those of St Thomas and St Nicholas, had to perform concertante music. He also had to carry out the inspection of the organists and the musicians of the city, who had to accompany the boys, and he had to provide concertante music for the main service every Sunday, with the exception of the last three Sundays of Advent and those of Lent. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were celebrated musically for three days and for these great festivals the music performed in the morning service of one of the main churches was repeated in the evening during vespers in the other. The same happened during the New Year, the Epiphany, the Trinity and the feasts of St John and St Michael and the feast of the Reformation. He also had to provide the music for the Passion for the vespers on Good Friday [1724: first performance of the St John Passion; 1727: first performance of the St Matthew Passion]. As if this were not enough, the Kyrie, the Gloria and the Sanctus were performed musically, as also happened with the Latin Magnificat [first performance 25/12/1723]”.
Subsequently, the voice of Anna Magdalena tells us about the birth (and death) of the first children of marriage, the composition by the cantor of various pedagogical and secular works, his obtaining the directorship of the Collegium Musicum created by Telemann and the return of the couple to Köthen in 1729 to participate in the musical funeral honours of Prince Leopold.
Around that time (1730) Bach came into conflict with the municipal council of the city because of the low salaries and scant aid that the council provided for musicians who faced increasingly complex musical demands. In a letter to a friend living in Dantzig, the cantor complains about the cost of living in Leipzig and the growing disinterest of the authorities towards music, noting that his salary expectations have not been met and that he is looking for a possible job somewhere else. While death torments the couple – in a short space of time they lose three small children – Bach looks for external support in the Saxon city of Dresden for whose prince he writes several Dramma per musica and secular cantatas.
Meanwhile, Bach also suffers the interference of the superintendents of the diocese of Leipzig, who try to impose musicians on him who are incapable of dealing with the complexities of his music (1736). In spite of the admiration that his music received in Dresden, in Leipzig things were not going well, and the cantor was forced to resort to the aid of Prince Frederick Augustus, from 1733 King of Poland and Duke of Lithuania, in order for his situation to be respected.
In the meantime, Bach’s children began finding places for themselves as musicians in various parts in Germany. One of them, Bernhard, later became a cause of problems and sadness due to his excessively relaxed lifestyle. In 1939, coinciding with the death of Bernhard at the age of 24, Bach published his Clavier-Übung III. In 1747, Bach travelled to Potsdam at the request of King Frederick II of Prussia. As a result of this trip he took a musical theme played by the king, who was a remarkable flautist, and taking this as a starting point “he worked intensively on the royal theme in order to make it known to the world. And, after his return, he composed a ricercar for three voices, one for six voices and a trio for flute, violin and piano along with some other small pieces based on the royal theme, and had these works engraved and dedicated them to king as a musical offering”.
That same year, his health worsened, and he began to suffer from cataracts. In 1750, he underwent surgery twice and suffered a heart attack. Voice of Anna Magdalena: “Suddenly his eyes seemed to be doing well, so much so that one morning [28 July] he could see and bear the light again. But only a few hours later he suffered a haemorrhage followed by a strong fever to which, despite all the efforts of two of the most skilled doctors in Leipzig, he succumbed sweet and saintly in the afternoon.”
• There is no such “Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach”. The work, entitled The Little Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, which many believed to be authentic, was published anonymously in Germany in 1925. It is a literary reconstruction of the biography of the cantor, from various sources, written by the English author Esther Meynell in a style that followed the tradition of the romantic biography (although not without quality) and the original English edition was published in 1933.
• There is a Spanish translation of the “Chronicle” in question originally published in 1944 by the publisher Editorial Juventud as if it were a text written by Bach’s second wife. The successive reissues have not corrected the misunderstanding.
• Anna Magdalena Bach did not write anything. Nor is her correspondence preserved.
• Straub and Huillet have “composed” the commentary and constructed the dramatic scenes from Bach’s own letters (“where he says ‘I’, she says ‘he’ or ‘Sebastian’”), from the Nekrolog (obituary) written by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach and Joahnn Friedrich Agricola and edited by Mizler in his Musicalische Bibliothek in 1754, and from the Account Register of the court of Köthen. Their contribution was limited to linking phrases between texts.
• To understand this synopsis, it is important to consult the full repertoire of musical works performed in the film which is included below. It lists all the pieces by the cantor that the authors of the film have used, from performances recorded live specifically for the film, regardless of whether the images show such performances or the music is heard over engravings, printed pages or fragments of manual writing, since, de facto, it is the music that represents the true biography of the cantor.
COMPLETE REPERTOIRE (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE IN THE FILM) OF MUSIC HEARD IN THE FILM
• Bars 147 to 154 of the Allegro I from the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5; grand cadence, bars 154 to 219; allegro, bars 219 to 227
• Prelude 6 from the Clavier Notebook BWV 128
• Minuet 2 from the Clavier Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach 1722 BWV 812
• Adagio from the Sonata no. 2 in D major for Viola da Gamba and harpsichord BWV 1028
• Largo from the Organ trio sonata in C minor BWV 526
• No. 11 and 12 (up to bar 19) of the Magnificat in D major BWV 243
• Tempo di Gavotta from the partita in E minor from the Clavier Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach 1725 BWV 830
• No. 2 and 3 from the Cantata Der zufriedengestelte Äolus BWV 205
• Final chorus of the Funeral Ode BWV 198 (later becoming the final chorus of the St Mark Passion)
• Aria “May the world be abandoned with joy” from the Funeral music BWV 244ª (Later transformed into the aria “For love my Saviour now is dying” of the St Matthew Passion)
• Opening chorus by the choir of the St Matthew Passion BWV 244
• Introductory symphony (da capo, bars 1 to 53) and recitative from the Cantata “Am Abend desselbigen Sabbats” BWV 42
• Prelude in B minor for organ BWV 544
• Kyrie Eleison from the Mass in B minor BWV 232
• Opening chorus of the Cantata BWV 215 (later becoming the Hosanna of the Mass in B minor)
• Second part of the final chorus of the Ascencion Oratorio BWV 11
• Conventional Sunday Motet in Latin for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, for 8 voices, by Leo Leonius, taken from the Florilegium Portense of Erhard Bodenschtz
• Chorale “Kyrie, God Holy Spirit”, for 5 voices. Canto fermo in Basso. Cum organo pleno, from the third part of Clavier-Übung, BWV 671
• Harpsichord interpretation of the beginning of the aria “Geduld, Geduld” from the St Matthew Passion
• Andante of the Concerto in the Italian taste from the second part of the Method for keyboard.
• 1st duet (soprano, bass; bars 1 to 36) of the Cantata “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” BWV 140.
• Variation no. 25 of the so-called Goldberg Variations BWV 988.
• Last recitative and final aria of the Cantata “Ich habe Genung” BWV 82.
• Ricercar a 6 (bars 1 to 39) of the Musical offering BWV 1079.
• Contrapunctus XIX (bars 193 to 239) from The Art of Fugue BWV 1080.
• Chorale for Organ “Before thy throne, I tread” BWV 668.
*All the music performed is by Johann Sebastian Bach with the exception of Conventional Sunday Motet (11th after Trinity) which is by Leo Leonius.