The Little Notebook
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) transformed music. "The Father of Music," he brought us The Well Tempered Clavier, The Brandenburg Concertos, English and French Suites, Cantatas, The Goldberg Variations, and many more. Over one thousand more, to be exact. There are many stories behind several of his famous works, but the one we'll explore today is that of The Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.
Anna Magdalena Wilcke was a young, highly-gifted soprano 16 years his junior. While little was known about her early musical education, she was brought up in a musical family. In 1721, she was hired by the court of Anhalt-Kothen as a singer. At this time, J.S. Bach was also hired by Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Kothen, to serve as Kapellmeister (director of music), likely how they met. Anna Magdalena continued to sing professionally into their marriage, while also working regularly as a copyist, transcribing her husband's music, providing additional family income. J.S. Bach had four surviving children from his first marriage (three died in infancy). Together they raised these children and had 13 children of their own (seven of whom died at a young age). Often, during their time in Leipzig, Anna Magdalena organized musical evenings featuring the whole family playing and singing together with visiting friends. The Bach house became a musical center in Leipzig.
It was a common trend among artistic families of creating their own house albums of composed music. A total of three notebooks were discovered in the Bach household. The first was dated 1720 and dedicated to Bach's first son, Wilhelm Friedemann. The second and third notebooks (dated 1722 and 1725), had a gilt-edged binding of vellum, and was laid out lavishly. It looked like a gift that was created to celebrate a very special occasion. Most are short pieces, (including dances, arias, marches, chorales, etc.) in no particular order, and likely crafted to satisfy Anna Magdalena and her vocal talents. Some items were intended as educational musical instruction for the children. Most pieces are quite technically accessible. Johann Sebastian likely composed these works to provide a simpler and easier introduction to playing keyboard works -- especially when compared to many of his other compositions with many more layers. Most widely recognized from Anna Magdalena's Little Notebook are Minuet in G, Musette in D Major, and Minuet in G Minor.
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