Anna Magdalena Bach
née Wilcke – Biography

Some preliminary notes:

This list is only intended to provide an overview of the important dates in the life of Anna Magdalena Bach née Wilcke. More extensive details can be found in Maria Hübner: "Anna Magdalena Bach – Ein Leben in Dokumenten und Bildern",  a publication that I highly recommend as a documentary source. For other sources, see "Bach-Dokumente".

One must be cautious about considering the various events on the basis of modern life experience or relating them to imagined ways of life at the end of the 19th or in the 20th century. People living in the first half of the 18th century had biographies and world views that were very different to those of today. They lived in completely different social structures. For example, the regular payments to a widow from the social fund of the city of Leipzig is not a sign of life-threatening financial poverty. She was supported because she was not able to live according to her social status. This does not permit any conclusions about her general finances to be drawn. Social support payments can be shown even for widows who had servants.

22nd September 1701 (Zeitz): Margaretha Elisabeth Wilcke, née Liebe, gives birth to a daughter who is baptised Anna Magdalena on the 24th September in the palace chapel.

The father is the Zeitz court trumpeter Johann Caspar Wilcke.

Anna Magdalena is the youngest of her siblings (her brother will becomes the court trumpeter in Zerbst in 1717 and her two sister will marry court trumpeters).

1718: The house in Zeitz is sold, the father has taken a position as court trumpeter at the court of Weissenfels.

1721 (Köthen): The name Anna Magdalena Wilcke appears ini a document in Cöthen for the first time in June (taking Communion, wrongly entered as Mar. Magd. Wilken).

In September she takes on godmother roles, being entered in the baptismal registers as “court singer” or “chamber musician”.

She is first mentioned in the court accounts after her wedding, and draws a salary that is only exceeded by that of the Capellmeister Bach and the Concertmeister Spiess.

3rd December 1721 (Köthen): “Maiden Anna Magdalena, youngest daughter in wedlock of Mr. Johann Caspar Wülcke, Court and Field Trumpeter of the High-Princely Court of Saxony and Weissenfels“ marries “Johann Sebastian Bach, High-Princely Court Capellmaster here widower“ (marriage register entry), the wedding takes place at home by permission of the prince.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife had died in July 1720, he has four children aged 6, 7, 11 and 12 years.

Anna Magdalena Bach gave birth to thirteen children (see the article: How many Children did Anna Magdalena Bach have to Care for?).

22nd May 1723 (Leipzig): Move to the service apartment at the St. Thomas School, Johann Sebastian Bach took the position of a teacher of St. Thomas School (responable for musical education but also for other lessons, called Cantor) and Director of Music of the City of Leipzig.

1724, 1725, 1729: Evidence of performances by Anna Magdalena Bach at the court in Cöthen

1732: Journey with her husband to Kassel

1741 (Leipzig): Anna Magdalena is seriously ill, but recovers.

28th July 1750 (Leipzig): Johann Sebastian Bach dies and is buried on 31st August in the graveyard of St. John’s.

August 1750 (Leipzig): Anna Magdalena Bach is responsible for the performance of the Cantata at the celebration of the change of town council.

After the death of her husband, she has the care of the two youngest daughters, who are 8 and 12 years old on the death of their father, and the 26-year-old son Gottfried Heinrich who is mentally retarded.

She manages the inheritance of the immature children.

Her actions during the distribution of the estate show clearly that she has money to spare the she does not need to maintain the family.

The widow Anna Magdalena Bach receives support from legacies via the University of Leipzig and the City of Leipzig, the latter being conditional on her being self-supporting.

During the distribution of the estate, she creates the conditions to be able to let living quarters.

The family lives in the street Neuer Kirchhof.

Anna Magdalena participates in the publication of the Art of Fugue and acts as distributor for this work.

1752: The widow is named by her stepson Carl Philipp Emanuel as a distributor of his work Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen for Leipzig, as is shown by advertisements in 1752, 1754 and 1759 asking those interested to contact her.

27th February 1760 (Leipzig): Anna Magdalena Bach dies and is buried on the 29th February.