Georg Philipp Telemann (March 14, 1681 –June 25, 1767) was a German Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist, who was born in Magdeburg, the capital of the Duchy of Magdeburg, Brandenburg-Prussia, into an upper-middle-class family. His parents were Heinrich Telemann, deacon at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Magdeburg, and Maria Haltmeier, daughter of a clergyman from Regensburg. The composer, who was almost completely self-taught in music, himself claimed that he inherited the talent for music from his mother. Heinrich Telemann died in 1685, leaving Maria to raise the children and oversee their education. Georg studied at the Altstädtisches Gymnasium and at the Domschule. At age ten he took singing lessons and studied keyboard playing for two weeks with a local organist, but this was enough to inspire the boy to teach himself other instruments such as recorder, violin, and zither, and start composing. His first pieces were arias, motets, and instrumental works, and at age 12 he composed his first opera, Sigismundus.
Neither Maria nor her advisers were supportive of these endeavors, however, confiscated all of the boy’s instruments, and forbade him any musical activities, yet Telemann continued composing, in secret. His mother sent him to a school in Zellerfeld, hoping that this would convince her son to choose a different career, but the superintendent of the school, Caspar Calvoer, recognized Telemann’s talents and even introduced him to musical theory; Telemann continued composing and playing various instruments, taught himself thoroughbass. and regularly supplied music for the church choir and the town musicians. In 1697 Telemann left for Hildesheim, where he entered the famous Gymnasium Andreanum. Here too his talents were recognized and in demand: the rector himself commissioned music from Telemann. The young composer frequently travelled to courts at Hanover and Brunswick where he could hear and study the latest musical styles.
Telemann continued studying various instruments, and eventually became an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. At Hildesheim he taught himself flute, oboe, chalumeau, viola da gamba, double bass, and bass trombone. After graduating from Gymnasium Andreanum, Telemann went to Leipzig in late 1701 to become a student at the Leipzig University, where he intended to study law. In his 1718 autobiography Telemann explained that this decision was taken because of his mother’s urging. However, in his 1740 autobiography, he claimed that he was motivated by his desire for university education. This was not to be because a setting of Psalm 6 by him inexplicably found its way into his luggage and was found by his roommate at the university. The work was subsequently performed and so impressed those who heard it that the mayor of Leipzig himself approached Telemann and commissioned him to regularly compose works for the city’s two main churches.
Once he established himself as a professional musician in Leipzig, Telemann became increasingly active in organizing the city’s musical life. The very first ensemble he founded was a student collegium musicum that had some forty members. In 1702 Telemann became director of the opera house Opernhaus auf dem Brühl. Between 1702 and 1705 Telemann composed at least eight operas, four of which went to the Leipzig operahouse and four to the Weissenfels court. In 1704 Telemann received an invitation to become Kapellmeister for the court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau (now Żary, in Poland). Leipzig authorities granted him resignation in early 1705, however, and he arrived in Sorau in June. Telemann was as prolific as in Leipzig, composing at least 200 ouvertures, by his own recollection, and other works. Unfortunately, the Great Northern War put an end to Telemann’s career at Sorau. In late January or early February 1706 he was forced to flee from the invading troops of the Swedish King Charles XII. He spent some time in Frankfurt an der Oder before returning to Sorau in the summer.
Around 1707–1708 Telemann entered the service of Duke Johann Wilhelm of Saxe-Eisenach, becoming Konzertmeister in 1708 and Kapellmeister in 1709. Thus began one of the most productive periods in Telemann’s life. During his tenure at Eisenach he composed a wealth of instrumental sonatas and concertos; numerous sacred works, which included four or five complete annual cycles of church cantatas; fifty German and Italian cantatas; and some twenty serenatas. In 1709 he made a short trip to Sorau to marry Amalie Louise Juliane Eberlin. They went back to Eisenach, where in January of 1711 Amalie Louise gave birth to a daughter. Unfortunately, the mother died soon afterwards; Telemann’s marriage lasted only for fifteen months. The event had a profound effect on the composer: he later recounted experiencing a religious awakening,
By the end of that year Telemann was frustrated with court life and started seeking another appointment. Sometime between late December of 1711 and early January of 1712 he applied for the newly vacant Frankfurt post of city director of music and Kapellmeister at the Barfüsserkirche. The application was successful and Telemann arrived in Frankfurt on March 18,1712. Telemann’s new duties were similar to those he had in Leipzig. He provided various music for two churches, composing, among other pieces, more annual cycles of cantatas, as well as for civic ceremonies; he also revived the city’s collegium musicum. On August 28, 1714, he married his second wife, Maria Catharina Textor. The couple had nine children. The following year he began publishing his music; four collections of instrumental pieces appeared within the next three years, and many more publications would follow.
In 1721 Telemann was invited to work in Hamburg as Kantor of the Johanneum Lateinschule and musical director of the city’s five largest churches. The composer accepted and remained in Hamburg for the rest of his life. The years spent in the city were the most productive period of his life. Once again he was required to compose numerous cantatas, not only for the churches but also for civic ceremonies. He also gave public concerts, led another collegium musicum, and assumed the directorship of the opera house Gänsemarktoper. In Hamburg Telemann started actively publishing his music as well, engraving and advertising the editions himself. More than 40 volumes of music appeared between 1725 and 1740 and these were widely distributed across Europe, owing to Telemann’s numerous contacts in various countries. All this publishing activity, however, was in part driven by the need for money. Telemann’s wife Maria Catherina amassed a very large gambling debt, and she was also publicly rumored to be having an affair with a Swedish military officer. Telemann’s friends in Hamburg organized a collection to save the composer’s finances, and eventually he was saved from bankruptcy. By 1736 Maria had left Telemann’s home.
In late September or early October of 1737 Telemann took an extended leave from Hamburg and went to Paris but returned to Hamburg by the end of May of 1738. Around 1740 his musical output fell sharply, even though he continued fulfilling his duties as Hamburg music director. He became more interested in music theory and completed a treatise on the subject, Neues musicalisches System (1742/3, published 1752). He also took up gardening and cultivating rare plants, a popular Hamburg hobby, but still followed European musical life, and throughout the 1740s and the 1750s he exchanged letters and compositions with younger composers such as C.P.E. Bach, Franz Benda, Johann Friedrich Agricola, and others.
After Telemann’s eldest son Andreas died in 1755, he assumed the responsibility of raising Andreas’ son Georg Michael Telemann, who eventually became a composer. In his later years, Telemann’s eyesight began to deteriorate, and he was increasingly troubled by health problems. This led to a further decline in his output around 1762. However, he was still capable of composing music of highest quality, and continued to write until his death on the evening of June 25, 1767. The cause of death was a “chest ailment.” He was buried on June 29, and succeeded at his Hamburg post by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach. Telemann was one of the most prolific composers in history, at least in terms of surviving music, comprising more than 3,000 pieces, and was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the leading German composers of the time. His music incorporates several national styles, including both French and Italian, and is even at times influenced by Polish popular music. He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies, and his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles.
The following pieces by Telemann appear in my collection.
Concerto for trumpet in DM.
Concerto for Violin and Strings in BbM, “Pisendel.”
Concerto for Four Violins in GM.
Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra.
Excerpts from Heldenmusik (Hero Music, 1730).
Music de Table: Suite No. 3 in BbM.
Ouverture joing d’une suite tragi-comique, TWV 55:D22.
Ouverture in DM, Jubeloratorium fur die Hamburger Admiralitat, TWV 23:1.
Suite Alster in FM, Orchestersuite mit Horn Quartett, TWV 55:F11.
Suite La Chasse in FM, TWV 55:F9.
Suite La Musette in gm, VI Ouvertures a 4 ou 6, No. 2, TWV 55:g1.
Suite in am for Flute and Strings.
Suite for Violin and Strings in AM.