Composer in Focus – Georg Philipp Telemann

Name: Georg Philipp Telemann
Dates: 1681-1767
Country of Birth: Germany
Musical Era: Baroque

Telemann was something of a self-made man. After his father died when he was aged just four, the young Telemann soon embraced music, much to the chagrin of his family.  While he did receive some lessons from the local organist, it seems much of Telemann’s study was done in secret.  So when a first opera appeared at the age of twelve, it was all a bit of a surprise in the Telemann household.  Being the dutiful son and student, Georg Philipp made his way to Leipzig University fully intending to study law…  Of course the lure of music was too much, and he became a professional musician.  Only in his early twenties, the hungry and already prolific composer and musician (he taught himself flute, oboe, recorder, violin, double bass…) was appointed director of the Leipzig Opera House.

Itchy feet and the promise of new challenges, and new music-making, would see Telemann move several times during these blossoming years.  A tenure in Frankfurt, was followed by a more permanent stay in Hamburg; and in both cities he made an enormous impact , becoming a major musical force wherever he went.  In Hamburg he presided over five of the largest churches, arranging, composing and working with their choirs.  His commercial (read Secular) activity didn’t always go down well with the church, however; indeed after his death some felt his sacred works lacked devotion – unlike Bach’s.  J S Bach was a contemporary and friend of Telemann’s, along with Handel, and the music of both composers would outshine Telemann’s to some degree, his seemingly going out of fashion.  Some cited the fact that he was too prolific (quantity over quality they apparently said).  It is true that he is probably one of the most prolific composers of the era, with more recent cataloguing and research citing some 3,000 known works.  Of course many of them have been lost, others rediscovered (such as the twelve ‘Fantasias’ for viol da gamba).

Telemann’s influences were widespread, his much taking on Italian, German and French idiosyncrasies; and his reach was equally broad.  He inspired the likes of Bach and Handel, not just in terms of musical form and style, but also in his business acumen.  Telemann was one of the first composers to recognise the importance of retaining intellectual rights over his creations.  Those creations, so many of them, may have been neglected for a long time, but today he is recognised as one of the great Baroque composers, whose craft ushered in the early Classical era.

Key works… Twelve Fantasias for Violin without Bass, Germanicus, Viola Concerto in G, Broches Passion, St Luke Passion

Did you know?  Telemann was Godfather to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and enjoyed cultivating exotic plants in his later years…

Telemann in Bristol
Tues 20 Sept, 8.30pm /
Richard Boothby (viol) – ‘Twelve Fantasias for Viol da Gamba’ (St George’s Bristol)