Dates: March 14th, 1681-June 17th, 1767
Contemporaries: Bach, Vivaldi, Handel
Known for: Telemann is probably most noted for his prolific carer, in which he is credited over 800 works and is regarded as having written 3,000 or more compositions, most of which have been lost over the centuries.
Born in born in Magdeburg, in 1681,Telemann was raised in an upper-middle-class family that was not particularly musical. In fact, his mother attempted many times to discourage him from this profession. The death of Telemann’s father in 1685 left his mother to raise and oversee the education of their children, and she did so with diligence. Little Telemann, surrounded as he was by family members who worked in a liturgical setting, began to discover music at age 10, and quickly showed talent, composing his first opera by age 12. But musicians have never been great money makers, and so this talent was not approved of by his family. Fearing that her son would pursue a career in music, Telemann’s mother confiscated all of his musical instruments and in 1693 packed him off to a new school in Zellerfeldt, hoping that this change would put the boy on a more lucrative career path. However, the superintendent of this school approved of his talents, and Telemann continued to compose and expand his knowledge of music on his own. By the time he completed his studies at the Gymnasium Andreanum, Telemann was a multi-instrumentalist who had learned to play the recorder, organ, violin, viola, flute, oboe, chalumeau, double bass and bass trombone, almost entirely by himself. His travels had also exposed him to newer musical styles and influences, namely the music of Johann Rosenmüller and Arcangelo Corelli, both masters.
However, his mother was not yet done with him, and thus it was that in 1701, with a heavy heart, Telemann entered Leipzig University intending to study law. But it was not long before his musical talent was discovered and he was commissioned to write music for two of the city’s main churches. Soon thereafter, he founded a 40-member Collegium Musicum to give concerts of his music. The next year, Telemann became the director of Leipzig’s opera house and cantor of one of its churches. There he enjoyed immense success and the jealousy of many contemopraries.
After four years of good fortune, Telemann left Leipzig in 1705 to become Kapellmeister for the court of Count Erdmann II in Sorau. Here he acquainted himself with the French styles of Lully and Campra, composing many overtures and suits in his two years at the post. After an invasion of Germany by Sweden in 1707, which forced Count Erdmann's court to evacuate the castle, Telemann visited Paris and was later appointed as a leader of the singers at the court in Eisenach, where he met Johann Sebastian Bach. The most advantageous position of Telemann's life was his appointment in 1721 as musical director of the five main churches in Hamburg, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. Here Telemann#s prolific pen came in handy, for he wrote two cantatas for each Sunday, as well as other sacred music for special occasions, all while teaching singing and music theory and directing another collegium musicum, which gave weekly or bi-weekly performances.
Telemann was not above using his success as a leaver for a fatter wallet. When the position Kuhnau had once held in Leipzig became vacant, Telemann applied for the position. Of the six musicians who applied, he was the favored candidate, even winning the approval of the city’s council. Telemann declined the position, but only after using the offer as leverage to secure a pay raise for his position in Hamburg. Telemann even augmented this Hamburg pay with a few small positions in other courts and through publishing volumes of his own music.
Starting around 1740, Telemann’s output decreased as he began to focus more on writing theoretical treatises. During this time he corresponded with some younger composers, including Franz Benda and his godson, C.P.E Bach. In his later years, Telemann’s eyesight began to deteriorate, and this led to a decline in his output around 1762, but the composer continued to write until his death on June 25, 1767.
What touches me most about Telemann was the wonderful relationship he had with Bach, even becoming the god-father of this famous composer's son. It is interesting for me at least to note that Telemann was a far more accredited composer in his day then Bach, yet so few know his name now. You can speak the name of Bach with almost anyone you meet, but mention Telemann and all you get is a blank stare. This is a composer worth looking into. His Two Violin Sonata is my personal favorite, and I would love to hear my brother play this on his violin with a friend.