Profile of Georg Philipp Telemann
Georg Philipp Telemann (24 March 1681 – 25 June 1767) was a German Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist. Almost completely self-taught in music, he became a composer against his family's wishes. After studying in Magdeburg, Zellerfeld, and Hildesheim, Telemann entered the University of Leipzig to study law, but eventually settled on a career in music. He held important positions in Leipzig, Sorau, Eisenach, and Frankfurt before settling in Hamburg in 1721, where he became musical director of that city's five main churches.
Telemann is one of the most prolific composers in history and was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the leading German composers of the time—he was compared favorably both to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach, who made Telemann the godfather and namesake of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and to George Frideric Handel, whom Telemann also knew personally. As part of his duties, he wrote a considerable amount of music for educating organists under his direction. This includes 48 chorale preludes and 20 small fugues (modal fugues) to accompany his chorale harmonizations for 500 hymns. His music incorporates French, Italian, and German national styles, and he was at times even influenced by Polish popular music. He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies, and his music stands as an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles. The Telemann Museum in Hamburg is dedicated to him.
Biography of Georg Philipp Telemann
Telemann was born in Magdeburg, then the capital of the Duchy of Magdeburg, Brandenburg-Prussia. His father Heinrich, deacon at the Church of the Holy Spirit (Heilige-Geist-Kirche), died when Telemann was four. The future composer received his first music lessons at 10, from a local organist, and became immensely interested in music in general, and composition in particular. Despite opposition from his mother and relatives, who forbade any musical activities, Telemann found it possible to study and compose in secret, even creating an opera at age 12.
In 1697, Telemann was sent to the famous Gymnasium Andreanum at Hildesheim, where his musical talent flourished, supported by school authorities, including the rector himself. Telemann was becoming equally adept both at composing and performing, teaching himself flute, oboe, violin, viola da gamba, recorder, double bass, and other instruments.
In 1701 he graduated from the Gymnasium and went to Leipzig to become a student at the Leipzig University, where he intended to study law. He ended up becoming a professional musician, regularly composing works for Nikolaikirche and even St. Thomas (Thomaskirche). In 1702 he became director of the municipal opera house Opernhaus auf dem Brühl, and later music director at the Neukirche. Prodigiously productive, Telemann supplied a wealth of new music for Leipzig, including several operas, one of which was his first major opera, Germanicus.
Telemann left Leipzig in 1705 at the age of 24, after receiving an invitation to become Kapellmeister for the court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau (now Żary, in Poland). His career there was cut short in early 1706 by the hostilities of the Great Northern War, and after a short period of travels he entered the service of Duke Johann Wilhelm in Eisenach where Johann Sebastian Bach was born. He became Konzertmeister on 24 December 1708 and Secretary and Kapellmeister in August 1709. During his tenure at Eisenach, Telemann wrote a great deal of music: at least four annual cycles of church cantatas, dozens of sonatas and concertos, and other works. In 1709, he married Amalie Louise Juliane Eberlin, lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Promnitz and daughter of the musician Daniel Eberlin. Their daughter was born in January 1711. The mother died soon afterwards, leaving Telemann depressed and distraught.
On 18 March 1712 Tellemann moved to Frankfurt at the age of 31 to become city music director and Kapellmeister at the Barfüßerkirche and St. Catherine's Church. In Frankfurt, he fully gained his mature personal style. Here, as in Leipzig, he was a powerful force in the city's musical life, creating music for two major churches, civic ceremonies, and various ensembles and musicians. By 1720 he had adopted the use of the da capo aria, which had been adopted by composers such as Domenico Scarlatti.
On 28 August 1714, three years after his first wife had died, Telemann married his second wife, Maria Catharina Textor, daughter of a Frankfurt council clerk. They eventually had nine children together. This was a source of much personal happiness, and helped him produce compositions. Telemann continued to be extraordinarily productive and successful, even augmenting his income by working for Eisenach employers as a Kapellmeister von Haus aus, that is, regularly sending new music while not actually living in Eisenach. Telemann's first published works also appeared during the Frankfurt period. His output increased rapidly, for he fervently composed overture-suites and chamber music, most of which is unappreciated. In the latter half of the Frankfurt period, he composed an innovative work, his Viola Concerto in G major, which is twice the length of his violin concertos. Also, here he composed his first choral masterpiece, his Brockes Passion, in 1716.
In 1721 The ambitious composer accepted the invitation to work in Hamburg as Kantor of the Johanneum Lateinschule, and music director of the five largest churches. Soon after arrival, Telemann encountered some opposition from church officials who found his secular music and activities to be too much of a distraction for both Telemann himself and the townsfolk. The next year in 1722, the city of Leipzig was looking for a new Thomaskantor which Telemann applied for and got the post, but Hamburg authorities agreed to give him a suitable raise. That post finnly went to Johann Sebastian Bach.
Between 1737 and 1738 Teleman traveled to Paris and stayed there for eight months. He was impressed by the opera Castor et Pollux, written by French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. From then on, he incorporated the French operatic style into his vocal works. Before then, his influence was primarily Italian and German. Apart from that, Telemann remained in Hamburg for the rest of his life. A vocal masterpiece of this period is his St Luke Passion from 1728, which is a prime example of his fully matured vocal style.
His first years in Hamburg were plagued by marital troubles: his wife's infidelity, and her gambling debts, which amounted to a sum larger than Telemann's annual income. The composer was saved from bankruptcy by the efforts of his friends, and by the numerous successful music and poetry publications Telemann made during the years 1725 to 1740. By 1736 husband and wife were no longer living together because of their financial disagreements.
In the 1740s, Telemann became less productive although still active and fulfilling the many duties of his job. He took up theoretical studies, as well as hobbies such as gardening and cultivating exotic plants, something of a fad in Hamburg at that time, and a hobby shared by Handel. Most of the music of the 1750s appears to have been parodied from earlier works. Troubled by health problems and failing eyesight in his last years, Telemann was still composing into the 1760s.
He died on the evening of 25 June 1767 from what was recorded at the time as a "chest ailment." He was succeeded at his Hamburg post by his godson, Johann Sebastian Bach's second son Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.
Telemann was one of the most prolific major composers of all time:his all-encompassing oeuvre comprises more than 3,000 compositions, half of which have been lost, and most of which have not been performed since the 18th century. From 1708 to 1750, Telemann composed 1,043 sacred cantatas and 600 overture-suites, and types of concertos for combinations of instruments that no other composer of the time employed.
During his lifetime and the latter half of the 18th century, Telemann was very highly regarded by colleagues and critics alike. Major composers such as J. S. Bach and Handel bought and studied his published works. He was immensely popular not only in Germany but also in the rest of Europe. It was only in the early 19th century that his popularity came to a sudden halt. Most lexicographers started dismissing him as a "polygraph" who composed too many works, a Vielschreiber for whom quantity came before quality.
It was not until the 20th century that Tellemann's music started being performed again. The revival of interest in Telemann began in the first decades of the 20th century and culminated in the Bärenreiter critical edition of the 1950s. Today each of Telemann's works is usually given a TWV number, which stands for Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis (Telemann Works Catalogue).
Telemann's music was one of the driving forces behind the late Baroque and the early Classical styles. Starting in the 1710s he became one of the creators and foremost exponents of the so-called German mixed style, an amalgam of German, French, Italian and Polish styles. Over the years, his music gradually changed and started incorporating more and more elements of the galant style, but he never completely adopted the ideals of the nascent Classical era: Telemann's style remained contrapuntally and harmonically complex.
Equally important for the history of music were Telemann's publishing activities. By pursuing exclusive publication rights for his works, he set one of the most important early precedents for regarding music as the intellectual property of the composer.