Georg Philipp Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann (March 14, 1681June 25, 1767) was a German Baroque music composer, born in Magdeburg. Self-taught in music, he studied languages and science at the University of Leipzig. Credited as the most prolific composer of all time, he was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, and friend of George Frideric Handel. Nowadays Bach is generally thought of as the greater composer, though Telemann was better recognized for his musical abilities during his lifetime.

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Georg Philipp Telemann

Telemann was so prolific that he was never able to count the number of his compositions. He traveled widely, absorbing various musical styles and incorporating them into his own compositions.

Telemann is known for writing concertos for unusual combinations of instruments, such as multiple violas or trumpets.

He held a series of important musical positions, culminating in that of music director of the five largest churches in Hamburg, from 1720 until his death in 1767. He was succeeded by his godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.



Georg Philipp Telemann was born in Magdeburg, now part of central Germany, in 1681. Telemannís family was not particularly musical; his great-grandfather had served as Cantor at Halberstadt, but no one else in his direct family had been involved in music. Telemannís father died in 1685, leaving his mother to raise and see to the education of the children. They were an upper-middle class family, and many worked in the church. Telemann began to discover music at age 10, and quickly showed talent, composing his first opera by age 12. But this talent was not approved of by his family--fearing that her son would pursue a career in music, Telemannís mother confiscated all of his musical instruments, and in 1693 sent him to a new school in Zellerfeld, 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 in Hildesheim, Telemann had learned to play the recorder, organ, violin, viola da gamba, flute, oboe, chalumeau, double bass, and bass trombone, almost entirely by himself. His travels had also exposed him to newer musical styles, and the music of RosenmŁller and Corelli became early influences.

In 1701, Telemann entered the Leipzig University intending to study law, perhaps at the request of his mother. It was not long before his musical talent was found out, however, and he was commissioned to write music for two of the cityís 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 Leipzigís opera house and cantor of one of its churches. His growing prominence began to anger elder composer Johann Kuhnau, whose position as director of music for the city had been encroached upon by Telemannís appointment as a cantor. Telemann was also using many students in his opera productions, leaving them less time to devote to participation in church music for Kuhnau. Kuhnau denounced Telemann as an ďopera musicianĒ. Even after Telemannís departure, Kuhnau could not regain the performers he had lost to the opera.

Telemann left Leipzig in 1705 to become Kappelmeister for the court of Count Erdmann II. Here he acquainted himself with the French style of Lully and Campra, composing around 200 French overtures and suites in his 16 years at the post. Despite this prodigious output, the most productive phase of Telemannís career did not begin until he took his next post 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 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 also directed the local opera house for a few years, but this proved a financial failure.

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 cityís council. Telemann declined the position, but only after using the offer as leverage to secure a pay raise for his position in Hamburg. When Telemann declined, the job was given to J.S. Bach. Telemann also augmented his Hamburg pay with a few small positions in other courts, and through publishing volumes of his own music.

Starting around 1740, Telemannís output decreased as he began to focus more energy on writing theoretical treatises. During this time he also corresponded with some younger composers, including Franz Benda and Telemann's godson, C.P.E. Bach. Following the death of his eldest son Andreas in 1755, Telemann assumed the responsibility of raising his grandson Georg Michael Telemann, and beginning the future composerís education in music. Many of his sacred oratorios date from this period. In his later years, Telemannís 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.

Selected Works

  • Der Geduldige Socrates (1721)
  • Der Schulmeister
  • Der Tod Jesu ("The death of Jesus")
  • Die Donner-Ode ("The Ode of Thunder")
  • Die Tageszeiten ("The Times of the Day")
  • Der Tag des Gerichts ("The Day of Judgement")
  • Viola Concerto, the first known concerto for viola, still regularly performed today
  • Tafelmusik


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External Links

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