Quick Film Guide: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Jean-Marie Straub and Daniéle Huillet, 1968)

Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach
Directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniéle Huillet
West Germany

Some may see it as stimulating; others as dull. Yet, Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach certainly stands out among the other works of the music biography subgenre, particularly when viewed in an era in which this specific subgenre appears to be dominated by over-sentimentality, often coming at the expense of realism and truth. This film chronicles the life of composer Johann Sebastian Bach; it presents excerpts of his works in chronological order, tied together by correspondences and texts written by him and read by his wife.

Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach was directed by the husband-and-wife team of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniéle Huillet, commonly referred to as simply Straub-Huillet. Here, they eschew melodrama and focus, instead, on the music. Inevitably, this is a cold and rigorous choice. Despite this, the film is regarded as one of their most “mainstream” works.

Each of Bach’s pieces are performed in-camera by musicians dressed in period costumes, and often in the locations where many of them were premiered. They are presented in single and often immobile takes. Many of the musicians were prominent classical music artists, including the renowned harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt, in the role of Bach.

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