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  • Melinda Steffy

Anna Magdalena Bach

Anna Magdalena Bach was Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife, mother of 13 of his children, the copyist of his manuscripts and herself an accomplished musician. When I became interested in using J.S. Bach’s music as the basis for a new body of work, her name repeatedly caught my eye in my background research. Then I ran across an article describing how an Australian researcher has theorized, based on forensic science and musical analysis, that Anna Magdalena may have been the composer of several of J.S. Bach’s most famous works — including the first Prelude of the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

I am fascinated by this woman whom history has pushed into the shadows behind her deity-revered husband. She must have been talented. Presumably loved, since Johann compiled notebooks of music for her. She raised several sons who also became well-known composers. What’s her story? How might the world look through the eyes of a woman steeped in genius?

In honor of Anna Magdalena, I have begun creating two streams of visual artwork based on a process of translating the music notation into a color-based pattern. In the first, I am working my way through all of the Preludes of the Well-Tempered Clavier, creating a series of 24 small paintings on paper. En masse, the paintings will show a progression of color combinations around the color wheel, much like the music of the WTC progresses through every key signature on piano.

In the second stream, I am obsessively replicating the color pattern for the first Prelude in C Major (one that Anna Magdalena may have written and the only one from the WTC included in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach). The replications will take as many different forms as I can come up with, from “fine” art to craft processes, like beadwork and a latch hook rug. I envision creating an entire household scene where every object in the room contains the pattern.


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