Personalities | Georg Philipp Telemann | Late Baroque | Classical

(Ga-ôrg’ Fe-lep’ Te’-le-man) 1681–1767
German composer

Telemann was born in Magdeburg and showed early promise as a musician. While a law student at Leipzig Univeristy he founded a collegium musicum, directed the Leipzig Opera and was commissioned to write cantatas for St Thomas’s Church.

In 1705 he became Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann of Promnitz, whose residence in Sorau (Zary) brought him into contact with Polish folk music. Together with influences from France and Italy, this contributed a distinctive ingredient to the formation of his style.

By 1708 he was court Konzertmeister at Eisenach, where he met J. S. Bach. In 1712 he moved to Frankfurt-am-Main as director of the city’s music, Kapellmeister at the Barfüsserkirche and director of the Frauenstein Society. Telemann made his final move, to Hamburg, to be Kantor of the Johanneum and director of the five main churches, in 1721.

Among his most important compositions are an orchestral/instrumental anthology, Musique de Table (1733), 72 sacred cantatas, Der harmonische Gottesdienst (1725–40), six Nouveaux Quatuors (1738) and Essercizii Musici (c. 1740). Some of his most original and forward-looking compositions belong to the last years of his life and include the cantata Der Tageszeiten (1757), the oratorio Der Tag des Gerichts (1762) and the dramatic cantata Ino (1765).


One of Telemann’s great achievements, notably in Hamburg, was to widen the accessibility of music. He did this by engraving and printing many of his own compositions, by establishing student or amateur collegia musica and by instituting public concerts. Thus he fostered an ideal that music was to be played and heard by many and not just by those from a privileged background. In 1728 Telemann launched the first instalment of a weekly music journal, Der getreue Music-Meister (‘The Constant Music Master’). He engraved the pewter plates himself and issued each instalment by subscription, under his own imprint. They mostly contained his music, though contributions by other composers – among them J. S. Bach, and Zelenka – were sometimes included. Promoting and circulating his music in this way enhanced his reputation and widened his popularity both in Germany and further afield.

Public concert life flourished in Leipzig, Frankfurt and Hamburg under Telemann’s seemingly tireless and vital direction, and Handel’s music was brought to a wider audience under Telemann’s promotion at this time. Among his many achievements was the release of sacred music from a purely ritual function to provide entertainment in the concert hall. Many of his later Passion-oratorios were first heard either privately or in Hamburg’s Drillhaus. Telemann also directed concerts in his home but, mainly owing to the thriving concert life of the city, for which Telemann deserves most of the credit, a new purpose-built concert hall was erected in 1761 – the first of its kind in Germany.

Recommended Recording:
Christmas Oratorio, Cantatas, soloists, Michaelstein Telemann Chamber Choir & Orchestra (dir) Ludger Rémy (CPO)

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