A Widow’s Song
A Widow’s Song
Anna Magdalena Bach was sixteen years younger than her husband, and it was therefore not unexpected that he would die before her. In her final decade as a widow of straitened circumstance, her musical Notebooks would have provided her moral support. According to the religious literature collected by the Bachs, the widow was meant to withdraw from public view and pray continually for the aid of God, who was cast in the role of the surrogate husband and father in sermons of the period. Though there were vestigial social support systems that helped Anna Magdalena and the two young daughters still in her care, her life would have become one devoted to the renunciation of worldly desires and the material comforts about which she had sung resplendently when at the height of her musical powers. Chorales like those in her Notebooks, both simple and decorated, provided solace to widows in their isolation and grief, and helped bolster faith in God. Anna Magdalena's music had changed just as she had: the youthful court singer and bawdy reveler gave way to the widow's intimate, daily performance of bereavement. Anna Magdalena had little, but she did have the consolation of her Notebooks.
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