The real scandal of the second Mrs Bach

Forget about phony documentaries. This is real history from Robert Eschbach, associate professor of music at the University of New Hampshire:

bach's daughter

 

Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, a gifted singer who shared his work and who bore him 13 children, died in great poverty 10 years after Bach’s passing.

Her last child (JSB’s 20th), Regina Susanne, died in 1809, the year of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth.

A decade before her death, Regina Susanne was also living in poverty. Friedrich Rochlitz, the editor of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, put out an appeal on her behalf, saying that she was starving, but that she “cannot, no, she should not, no she shall not beg.”

Among those who answered the appeal was Ludwig van Beethoven, who sent her 307 Gulden — a large sum. At the same time, he wrote to his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, to give her the royalties from one of his forthcoming compositions. Regina Susanne wrote to him: “With tears of joy, I received this sum, which surpasses all my expectations. Not a day that Providence grants me will go by that I will not remember you with heartfelt thanks, my benefactor.”

bach newspaper

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • I wondered about that myself, having read her story. One would think children growing up in such a rareified musical and religious atmosphere would behave differently but in many cases it is the opposite.
    The saying goes: “One mother has room in her house for 10 children but 10 children do not have room for one mother.”

  • This story shows also how many can construct empires over the music of a composer who do not receives the same kind of payment for his music….Remember Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, publishers….For your interest that kind of business have surivived 264 years after Bach’s passing….

  • Tommie Haglund made an important correction to this story on Norman’s Facebook page, which I would like to acknowledge here. In my original Facebook post, which Norman was so kind as to wish to repost on Slipped Disc, I made the mistake of trusting a single source, in this case an older account that I first encountered many years ago, a bit of which you can see above. This is something that I always caution my students not to do — the temptation to tell a good story and to make heroes of their subjects was something that even quite well-respected writers of earlier times found hard to resist. Consequently turns out that things that “everyone knows” are often simply things that everyone wishes were true.

    In this case, the truth is every bit as interesting as the fiction: the appeal for funds was real, as was Regina Susanne’s (and Anna Magdalena’s) poverty. Beethoven was moved by Regina’s plight, and also scandalized by the meagre German response to the appeal. As Mr. Haglund points out, Beethoven suggested to his publisher that he should compose a piece, the proceeds of which would go to Regina Bach (with a typical attempt at humor, he asked that it be done soon, before the Bach — ie “Brook” — dried up). Nevertheless, he apparently never followed through on his good intentions: an all-too-human foible.

    Older writers, such as Albert Schweitzer, claimed: “Als einer der ersten… sandte Beethoven seine Gabe ein” (“As one of the first… Beethoven sent in his gift”), and the source I relied on claimed that Beethoven had sent 307 Gulden, receiving the quoted thank you letter in reply. In fact, the 307 Gulden represented the total amount collected from multiple donors in Vienna, and the thank-you was written to Rochlitz, the originator of the appeal.

    Object lessons all around — and a good story to the bargain. History is endlessly fascinating, and truth is invariably more interesting (and often stranger) than fiction. — RWE

    • thank you for the correction in the comments section . typical of Mr. Lebrecht not to actually correct the wholly inaccurate article, which is the leading search result for Regina Bach and Beethoven together.

  • I think there’s no proof whatsoever that Beethoven contributed anything to the money that was handed over to Mrs. Bach.

  • >